All posts in “Advertising Tech”

Urban Airship raises another $25M

Urban Airship has raised $25 million in Series F funding.

The company started out as a platform supporting push notifications, but has since expanded to include other marketing channels like email, SMS, mobile wallets and voice assistants. The goal is to be the platform managing messaging and unifying customer data across all these channels.

Altogether, Urban Airship said it’s now delivered more than two trillion messages, doubling the number from a year ago.

Recent product additions include voice notifications on Amazon Alexa (which is still in beta testing) and automated in-app messaging. The company has signed up new enterprise customers like AMC, Magazine Luiza and Royal Automobile Club.

This funding was led by Foundry Group (which previously led the company’s Series B), with participation from True Ventures, August Capital, Intel Capital, Verizon Ventures, QuestMark Partners and Franklin Park Associates.

Brett Caine, who joined as CEO in 2014, said Urban Airship is currently breaking even, and he described this as “the first time in the eight nine years of the company where we’re raising money when we didn’t need it.”

So then why raise again? Caine said he sees “a lot of opportunity to grow and continue to expand globally and certainly look at the broad set of channels emerging in the market.”

“Instead of saying, ‘Oh gosh, we’ve gotta go out and raise money,’ and it was, ‘Let’s raise money to go faster,’” he added.

In addition to the growth of new marketing channels, Caine said growing discussion and regulation around online privacy serve as “wind shifts” in the company’s favor — because Urban Airship is focused on helping marketers use their own data to communicate directly with customers who have opted in to hearing from them.

“We’ve been opt-in, first-party from day one,” Caine said. “All of digital channels that we want to power, they only use first-party data. We don’t do anything with third-party, we don’t do any advertising.”

Urban Airship has now raised more than $100 million in total funding, according to Crunchbase.

Stensul raises $7M to make email creation easier for marketers

Email marketing startup Stensul is announcing that it has raised $7 million.

Stensul spun out of founder and CEO Noah Dinkin’s previous company FanBridge. Dinkin explained via email that the startup isn’t competing with the big email service providers — in fact, it integrates with ESPs including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Adobe Marketing Cloud and Marketo.

Dinkin said that while ESPs include email creation tools, most companies ignore them. Instead, the marketer has to work with specialists like designers, developer and agencies: “That process often takes weeks, everyone hates it, and it is SUPER expensive.”

Stensul, meanwhile, is focused exclusively on the email creation process. Marketers can build the email themselves, without having to rely on anyone else, in less than 20 minutes.

“They don’t need to know how to code, they don’t need to know how to use Photoshop or have memorized the 100 page pdf of brand guidelines,” Dinkin said. “The platform controls for brand governance and rules, and also guarantees that the output will be technically perfect.”

Stensul

Javelin Venture Partners led the Series A, with participation from Arthur Ventures, First Round Capital, Uncork Capital, Lowercase Capital and former ExactTarget President Scott McCorkle.

“Stensul has zeroed in on a massive problem space hiding in plain sight,” said Javelin’s Alex Gurevich in the funding announcement. “Email Marketing is used by every large company in the world, and the amount of time and money spent on email creation is far more than most people realize. The quality of top-tier customers that stensul has been able to bring on made it clear to us that they have a solution that really delivers value on day 1.”

Companies that have used Stensul include YouTube, Grubhub, BMW, Lyft and Box. Dinkin said he will continue to invest in product, but he the big goal with the new funding is to grow sales and marketing.

Facebook launches Brand Collabs search engine for sponsoring creators

Facebook wants to help connect brands to creators so they can work out sponsored content and product placement deals, even if it won’t be taking a cut. Confirming our scoop from May, Facebook today launched its Brand Collabs Manager. It’s a search engine that brands can use to browse different web celebrities based on the demographics of their audience and porfolios of their past sponsored content.

Creators hoping to score sponsorship deals will be able to compile a portfolio connected to their Facebook Page that shows off how they can seamlessly work brands into their content. Brands will also be able to find them based on the Top countries where they’re popular, and audience characteristics like interests, gender, education, relationship status, life events, or home ownership.

Facebook also made a wide range of other creator monetization announcements today

  • Facebook’s Creator app that launched on iOS in November rolled out globally on Android today. The Creator app lets content makers add intros and outros to Live broadcasts, cross-post content to Twitter and Instagram, see a unified inbox of their Facebook and Instagram comments plus Messenger chats, and more ways to connect with fans.

  • Ad Breaks, or mid-video commercials, are rolling out to more US creators, starting with those that make longer and original content with loyal fans. Creators keep 55 percent of the ad revenue from the ads.
  • Patreon-Style Subscriptions are rolling out to more creators, letting them charge fans $4.99 per month for access to exclusive behind the scenes content plus a badge that highlights that they’re a patron. Facebook also offers microtransaction tipping of video creators through its new virtual currency called Stars.

  • Top Fan Badges that highlight a creator’s most engaged fans will now roll out more broadly after a strong initial reaction to tests in March.
  • Rights Manager, which lets content owners upload their videos so Facebook can fingerprint them and block others from uploading them, is now available for creators not just publishers.

Facebook also made a big announcement today about the launch of interactive video features and its first set of gameshows built with them. Creators can add quizzes, polls, gamification, and more to their videos so users can play along instead of passively viewing. Facebook’s Watch hub for original content is also expanding to a wider range of show formats and creators.

Why Facebook Wants Sponsored Content

Facebook needs the hottest new content from creators if it wants to prevent users’ attention from slipping to YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, and elsewhere. But to keep creators loyal, it has to make sure they’re earning money off its platform. The problem is, injecting Ad Breaks that don’t scare off viewers can be difficult, especially on shorter videos.

But Vine proved that six-seconds can be enough to convey a subtle marketing message. A startup called Niche rose to arrange deals between creators and brands who wanted a musician to make a song out of the windows and doors of their new Honda car, or a comedian to make a joke referencing Coca-Cola. Twitter eventually acquired Niche for a reported $50 million so it could earn money off Vine without having to insert traditional ads. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman was a co-founder of Niche.]

Vine naturally attracted content makers in a way that Facebook has had some trouble with. YouTube’s sizable ad revenue shares, Patreon’s subscriptions, and Twitch’s fan tipping are pulling creators away from Facebook.

So rather than immediately try to monetize this sponsored content, Facebook is launching the Brand Collabs Manager to prove to creators that it can get them paid indirectly. Facebook already offered a way for creators to tag their content with disclosure tags about brands they were working with. But now it’s going out of its way to facilitate the deals. Fan subscriptions and tipping come from the same motive: letting creators monetize through their audience rather than the platform itself.

Spinning up these initiatives to be more than third-rate knockoffs of Niche, YouTube, Patreon, and Twitch will take some work. But hey, it’s cheaper for Facebook than paying these viral stars out of pocket.

Cheq raises $5M for a proactive, AI-driven approach to safe ad placement

While brand safety and fraud prevention have been big topics in the online ad industry over the past couple years, Cheq CEO Guy Tytunovich argued that “first generation solutions for ad verification” aren’t good enough.

The problem, Tytunovich said, is that existing products use sampling to alert advertisers to issues “after the fact.” Compare this to credit card fraud — if the credit card company only alerted you long after the fraud had occurred, “You’re not going to be happy with that kind of answer.”

At Cheq, Tytunovich and his team have developed an approach that uses artificial intelligence to deliver what he calls “autonomous brand safety” — the idea is that when an ad is being served, Cheq can detect whether it might be a fraudulent impression that will only be seen by bots, or if it might show up next to content that a brand doesn’t want to be associated with. If there’s an issue, Tytunovich said, “We block [the ad] from being served in real time.”

Beforehand, advertisers set up their own ad placement guidelines, and afterwards, they can see the reason why individual ads didn’t get served.

Cheq is announcing that it has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Battery Ventures . Tytunovich said that 80 percent of the Cheq team consists of developers, and that most of the funding will go towards further product development.

If the Cheq approach really is so much better, why aren’t bigger, better-funded companies doing the same thing? Tytunovich pointed to his experience, and his team’s experience, in the Israel Defense Forces, where he said “they teach you to compensate for a lack of scale, of manpower, by focusing on automation and speed.”

Similarly, Tytunovich said that at Cheq, “the name of the game is speed.”

“A lot about our underlying technology lies around the speed of the data crunching,” he added. “We look at around 700 data parameters per impression … We need to be able to take all that data, analyze it and do it in real time.”

Cheq has offices in Tokyo, New York and Tel Aviv. Tytunovich said it’s currently focused on the American and Japanese markets — customers listed on the Cheq website include Coca Cola, Turner and Mercedes-Benz. Update: A spokesperson clarified that those companies are listed on the Cheq website because Cheq participated with them in The Bridge program.

Marketing startup Influential raises $12M from WME and others

Influential announced today that it has raised $12 million in Series B funding.

The funding came from existing investors Capital Zed, ECA Ventures, Paradigm Talent Agency, ROAR and Tech Coast Angels, as well as from Hollywood agency WME .

Just a couple weeks ago, Influential said it was working with (and had raised money from) WME. The agency is the first to try out a new Influential product called Talent Pro, which gives agents access to social data around a broader pool of talent.

Influential founder and CEO Ryan Detert said the product will allow WME — and, in the future, other agencies — to sweeten endorsement and promotional deals with more data and to “take an A-list celebrity… and now surround that person with 10 lookalike influencers who are not celebrities themselves.”

One of Influential’s big selling points is its use of artificial intelligence (it’s a developer partner with IBM Watson) to help brands and marketers find influencers who would be a good fit for their campaigns. However, Detert acknowledged that selling access to social media influencers is starting to feel overhyped — as he put it, “People think of influencer marketing sometimes as a four-letter word.”

Ryan Detert

But in Detert’s view, influencer marketing is just one “tactic” that Influential supports: “We consider ourselves more of social intelligence and activation company.”

And in fact, Influential already offers a social intelligence product that helps customers get a broader understanding of things like the broader competitive landscape.

Detert also said Influential is working to measure the impact of brands’ social media campaigns, so that when they pay an influencer to make a promotional post, they “can actually map back that not only [the consumer] saw it, but that they engaged with it to make a real-world decision — walking into a location, buying a product in a grocery store.”

The company has now raised a total of $26.5 million.