WPP Takes Stake in Mobile Search

NEW YORK WPP Group said it has made an investment in JumpTap, a mobile search technology and advertising firm.

Two-year-old Cambridge, Mass.-based JumpTap provides mobile search technology to wireless carriers, along with a network that matches ad messages to queries. It displays both direct-response text links and branding via banner ads. The service allows carriers like Alltel Wireless and Virgin Mobile to offer their own branded search service, rather than rely on Internet search giants Google and Yahoo. It competes with other white-label mobile search providers like Medio Systems.

“It’s clear that in time the mobile search and advertising market will be substantial,” said WPP Digital CEO Mark Read, citing the 1.8 billion cellular phones in consumers’ hands worldwide.

The investment, which gives WPP a 2.5 percent stake in the company, is the latest in a series of bets on new media by WPP’s digital strategy unit, which has invested in Internet-based agency Spot Runner, online gaming ad network WildTangent and social network builder LiveWorld.

JumpTap is a well-funded startup, having in October closed a $22 million round of venture financing. A year earlier it received $21 million in financing. “We could get an investment from anybody,” said JumpTap CEO Dan Olschwang. “What I’m really after is the knowledge and not the money.”

Read said the deal would give its ad agency clients an early jump on the nascent mobile search ad business, as the companies work together to develop new ad targeting techniques and case studies of successful campaigns. It will not give WPP clients preferential pricing or exclusivity. Instead, it will give WPP influence over the development of new ad media.

“We don’t want to directly own media, but the lines are blurring,” he said. “It is interesting to us to be in slightly different, non-agency business.”

Other holding companies also have taken small pieces of non-agency emerging media properties. Interpublic Group invested tk million for a .5 percent stake in Facebook, and it joined WPP in financing Spot Runner. Publicis Groupe’s “new media consultancy” Denuo has taken small stakes in new platforms like broadband video provider Brightcove and user-generated ad platform Vitrue.