• Wilke left Amazon in early 2021 after running the e-commerce giant’s worldwide consumer operations.
  • Wilke takes part in $15 million seed round for CivicScience’s new advertising business.
  • CivicScience to use millions first-party relationships to target ads without third-party cookies.

Jeff Wilke, the former CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon, just backed a new digital advertising business emerging from the online polling firm CivicScience. 

CivicScience, led by John Dick, launched the new ad operation on Thursday and said it raised $15 million from investors including Wilke, Thomas Tull, founder of Legendary Entertainment, and The NPD Group. Other existing investors and advisors, including Mark Cuban, Kevin McClatchy, and Cox Enterprises, continue to support CivicScience. 

The new business is trying to take advantage of recent changes that are rocking the digital ad world. Third-party cookies, the bits of code that lodge in people’s browsers and follow them around the web, are on their way out. This software helped advertisers target people with online ads, and the industry is struggling to adjust to a future without this technology.

The changes favor companies with the most direct, or first-party, relationships with consumers online — often tech giants, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon. But CivicScience has an edge here, too. The company has collected billions of survey answers from consumers via widgets embedded inside of content on hundreds of publisher websites including MSN, Vox, BuzzFeed, and NBC. The new business intends to use this data and these first-party relationships to power anonymous, targeted ads that comply with tougher privacy regulations and don’t depend on third-party cookies. 

“CivicScience has an ability to futurecast in a way that gives real insights about consumers and markets. And this can help to power ads that are more reliable and consumer friendly,” Wilke said in an interview. “The reason this is so exciting is that they are building an alternative to third-party cookies that’s just as useful but respects consumer privacy.”

Wilke stepped down from Amazon in early 2021, after more than 20 years. He was one of the most powerful executives there, overseeing the company’s global consumer retail business. 

Wilke said he connected with John Dick through a weekly email that the CivicScience CEO sends out, discussing survey findings. The former Amazon executive found the results insightful and addictive. “Investing in the expansion just made sense,” Wilke added. He was also drawn by ties to his hometown of Pittsburgh, where CivicScience is based. 

Wilke declined to share how much he put into the $15 million round, saying it is a personal investment. Since leaving Amazon, he said he’s backed more than a dozen startups, including Pacaso, Beeflow, and Copia. “I enjoy interacting with founders,” he added. “I like to be around the innovation that happens with early-stage startups.”

CivicScience’s new ad company will be run by Doug Lauretano as CEO, who previously worked Fortune, CNN, WSJ Digital Network, and, most recently, Media.net, where he led efforts to launch and build a new business as SVP & GM. John Dick will remain CEO of the CivicScience parent company, supporting both the new media business and the original market-intelligence business. 

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