Undertone Has Creative On The Brain, Snaps Up Mobile Ad Startup Sparkflow

SparkflowUndertoneUndertone is consolidating around creative.

The programmatic ad network acquired Buenos Aires-based rich media startup Sparkflow on Thursday as part of a move to integrate data-driven creative capabilities into Undertone’s overall tech stack, which it calls Virtuoso.

The deal was on the smaller side, clocking in at “less than $20 million,” said Corey Ferengul, CEO of Undertone, whose advertiser and agency clients work with Gannett, American Media, USA Today Sports, AccuWeather and Bonnier Corp.

In the market for about a year, Sparkflow’s tech has a self-serve studio to create HTML5 responsive mobile units including interstitials, expandables and social rich media designed to work across screens. Its offering is rounded out with an analytics dashboard to track performance and engagement, as well as demo functionality within the studio to preview how a specific unit will look in the wild, both landscape and portrait style, across roughly 100 different device types.

Sparkflow’s clients, mostly based in Spain and Latin America, include Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, DirecTV, Avianca, Samsung and Nike, for which Sparkflow recently ran a multicountry interactive mobile video/image gallery unit to promote Nike’s latest shoe design.

Sparkflow appealed to Undertone because its capabilities weren’t redundant alongside Undertone’s existing technology, Ferengul said. Undertone has plans to make its own high-impact ad units, among them the Screenshift and the PageGrabber, available through Sparkflow’s self-serve interface over the next few months. That will be followed by the inclusion of Tapestry, the tappable mobile unit developed by Betaworks, for which Undertone recently signed on as the exclusive distribution partner.

“A lot of attention in the ad tech space has been very focused on data and delivery and audiences,” said Undertone co-founder Eric Franchi. “While all of that stuff is really important, none of it has a whole lot of meaning or value if the consumer didn’t engage with the ad.”

It’s a sentiment becoming more widely expressed throughout the ad tech ecosystem. As Paul Longo, managing director at Accordant Media, observed to AdExchanger, the industry has spent a lot of time developing audience segments and creative pairings for desktop display with great success.

“Those segments and aligned messages now need to scale to mobile,” Longo said. “Progress has been made here, but nascent mobile tracking capabilities and the smaller, less flexible creative palate are specific obstacles to overcome. Additionally, advanced dynamic efforts used on desktop, such as ad sequencing and storyboarding, are difficult to execute in both complexity and reality of the consumer’s engagement and attention.”

NikeGIFThat’s the nut Undertone is looking to crack with Sparkflow.

Although Sparkflow’s technology is self-serve, Undertone will remain hands on in varying degrees for the clients who want it, which Ferengul expects will represent the majority, especially as they grapple with new options like motion-triggered ad units. That’s not the kind of thing an advertiser or publisher can just repurpose from existing digital assets – it requires a whole new contextual concept, Ferengul said.

“From our experience in programmatic, when we say to customers who want self-service, ‘No problem, here’s the console,’ half the time they change their mind, while in other cases they might come back after six months and want our help,” he said. “It depends on the customer, but I think most will use a hybrid model.”

Undertone has 300 employees spread across offices in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, DC, London, Hamburg and Tel Aviv. The majority of Sparkflow’s employees, just shy of a dozen, will remain on board, including the company’s three co-founders. Sparkflow raised a $50,000 seed round in 2014 from NXTP Labs.

 

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