SPACInsider contributors Anthony Sozzi and Sam Beattie this week compiled their three favorite potential SPAC targets in adtech. We look at why they are compelling and why each could be a fit for a blank-check merger.
Annual digital advertising spending is projected to grow over 70% worldwide from $378.2 billion in 2020 to $646.8 billion in 2025, and the industry is set to undergo a number of changes over those years. Cookies, the long-time infrastructure for digital ad targeting, are already tracking customers on borrowed time with Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) having already announced phase-outs and publishers under pressure to do the same.
Many firms have cooked up internal technology for marketing efficiently in the absence of the cookie code and are eager to start their engines in the race for market share with SPAC cash. The most recent of these to do a deal was AdTheorent, announcing its $775 million combination with MCAP Acquisition Corporation (NASDAQ:MACQ) last week.
AdTheorent’s CEO Jim Lawson checked in with SPACInsider this week to discuss his company’s approach to the new landscape and some of the other things that the industry is cooking up. Back-fill ID’s that track browsing behavior while being privacy-friendly, granular advertising to smart TVs and consoles, and machine-learning models that optimize for marketing to customers in repair shop waiting rooms in certain kinds of weather – it’s all in here!
Automation also comes for every industry, and sales/marketing is no different. With both the sales and marketing processes requiring repetition and optimization pre- and post-pitch, they naturally fall into a slice of business that cries out for force multipliers and technology providing an edge.
San Diego-based Seismic takes that a step further with products that take things out of human hands in favor of AI-led customer and social engagement. It also hosts a wide-ranging API allowing multiple parties within a sales and marketing division to organize, visualize and tweak campaigns in real time.
It estimates that taking the deep dive in its offerings saves each sales worker about 400 hours per year and shortens time from pitch to close by 14 days on average. Its client base of about 700 firms represents about 1 million users in 50 countries and the company has managed a 96% retention rate with a client list that includes 22 of the 25 top global asset management firms.
The company secured a valuation at $1.6 billion in its last equity raise – a $92 million Series F in 2020. This marked its sixth venture round since 2013, leaving plenty of early investors that likely wouldn’t mind to see a liquidity event on the horizon.
A potential PIPE into a Seismic deal would also leave the opportunity for double-dipping by some of the longs in Seismic’s investor base. The venture arm of consumer giant Unilever (LON:ULVR) participated in Seismic’s 2018 Series E with a strategic interest in optimizing broad sales and marketing campaigns. T. Rowe Price also joined in both this and Seismic’s subsequent 2020 round.
But how do you get the cool kids to like your brand? Unified offers a range of engagement and measurement tools for campaigns like other adtech firms.
The extra layer it offers is a focus on social media influencers and broad digital ad inventory access in audio streams as a result of its long-term strategic partnership with iHeartMedia (NASDAQ:IHRT). iHeartMedia, which invested in Unified in 2015, is the US’ top podcast publisher and estimates about 250 million monthly listeners to its terrestrial and other audio streaming businesses.
It gets at a roster of paid social media influencers and celebrities through direct partnerships with Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), Tiktok, SNAP (NYSE:SNAP), among others.
Like AdTheorent, Innovid and other adtech firms that have already inked SPAC deals, Unified also has one foot squarely in the smart TV and OTT streaming buckets as well, with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Video being one of its main stomping grounds.
A deal for Unified might be possible with a SPAC that already has some familiarity with it in the form of Crucible (NYSE:CRU), which raised $258 million in its January IPO. It is on the hunt for a software firm with recurring revenues and is sponsored by the Foundry Group, which invested in United in the same 2015 capital raise that brought in iHeartMedia.
Boston-based NextRoll has also taken the deep plunge into machine-learning for its approach, which it splits between its AdRoll division designed for direct-to-consumer (D2C) clients and RollWorks for its B2B cleints.
Marketing for D2C companies is both essential and a thorny process given that they can’t always count on a specific geographic hook and it can be difficult to make an online ad impression stick. NextRoll’s AdRoll approaches are designed to make those interactions as sticky as possible. It has found that six in 10 of customers who abandon items in their virtual cart will come back to finish the purchase if they receive a personalized email within 24 hours.
That intervention makes for a large improvement as 88% of carts wind up abandoned in the ecommerce space. NextRoll also works to identify VIP shoppers from among brands’ purchases and keep them in the loop with loyalty perks while using those interactions to hunt for more shoppers like them in the wider web.
This approach is also not limited to large-scale enterprise clients. NextRoll allows users to glide through their API for free, only paying for specific services and its paid subscriptions start at $19 per month. Heftier clients needing to manage wider B2B interactions are forwarded on to RollWorks, which charges $975 per month at the lowest end.
NextRoll’s long time in the market having been founded in 2006 may also be an advantage as the digital marketing industry changes. While marketers across the board will have to back away from individual-specific data, NextRoll’s long road gives it its own bank of data to pull from. Its 15-year experience has given it a model built upon thousands of brands and billions of shoppers and their behavior over the years.
NextRoll has raised $114 million in outside funding to date, but has not tapped the equity funding well since 2018, and was in 2017 reportedly in talks to be acquired by Snap. Those talks foundered, but NextRoll could find a route to the public markets on more of its own terms through a SPAC and its three-year pause in funding likely means its ears are open.