If chess is a game of skill and baseball is a game of inches, then advertising is a game of moments.
“In the very few moments after that TV ad runs, that’s going to cause a spike in interest, whether on Google search or on Facebook or some other second screen or digital platform, it is going to cause interest in that brand or service,” Jeff Linihan said. “What we do is help the advertiser take advantage of that increase in interest during that very short period of time.”
It is a process that Linihan and partner Brian Handrigan refer to as “activation” and it is where the rubber meets the road for Advocado, the creatively named St. Louis venture that the pair brought to life in 2017. The software-as-a-service company, which was originally founded in Handrigan’s wife’s spare office and now employs 19 full-time people at its 13,000-square foot downtown location, aims to find ways to connect its clients to the public with measurable results by referencing proprietary and third-party data across multiple platforms and in real time.
The idea was initially born when the founders saw how much information could be aggregated from television broadcasts using current technology. Eventually, it expanded to correlate other branding channels including print, social media and even outdoor marketing.
By pulling together the proper data, Advocado can help advertisers amplify their efforts by analyzing where and when ads and searches are happening. They can also look at non-advertising components.
“We actually process closed caption streams in real time using natural language processing so we can detect things that are being discussed in the program whether that is news, sports or entertainment and see how that impacts consumer behavior as well,” Handrigan said.
Advocado even tracks variables like the weather to better pinpoint people’s needs and see when they might be receptive to a given message. It is a holistic approach to advertising.
“For example, when somebody goes to Google search, chances are that they had another stimulus that has forced them to go to Google search,” said Linihan, a 46-year-old former attorney turned entrepreneur. “Maybe they were sitting, watching a sporting event and there might be an ad for going to Florida for spring break via Delta Airlines. That causes them to go to the Delta website and look for flights for spring break. There is generally a stimulus that is causing that customer to go online and learn more about that product or service.”
The company’s data might allow real time responses from a political campaign when a certain news story appears or let an advertiser see the impact when their logo is displayed during a sporting event. That can create more opportunity to execute faster and more efficient marketing efforts.
“We also bring in data from a number of different offline sources like linear television,” Linihan said. “We have a patented watermark where we can pick up data out of television commercials to understand when and where those TV commercials are running, which creative is on the screen and a number of different data points.”
Advocado also has the advantage of being timely. With the passage of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the United States, the security of personal information has never been a hotter issue. Last year, Google even announced the impending end of the “cookie”, the hidden data packets that have long been a mainstay of digital marketers looking to follow consumer web activity.
“The good news for us was that we built our company from the beginning in a world without cookies and with consumer privacy first and foremost,” said Handrigan, a 52-year-old Rhode Island native who studied 19th Century American literature before founding an interactive marketing business after college. “Eventually, that created a huge opportunity for us with a three-to-four-year advantage over competitors in the fact that our platform helps companies understand what’s happening and relevantly connect with consumers in a post-cookie world.”
He said that everyone has grown tired of the experience of having a product they looked at on Amazon suddenly stalking them around the Internet.
Instead, Advocado hopes to build a dynamic that allows companies to understand their customers’ behavior in non-invasive ways that show messages viewers might actually find useful while saving cash that the advertiser might otherwise waste on useless page views for disinterested audiences.
“I’ll get an ad for an auto dealer down in Texas instead of Illinois,” Handrigan said. “That advertiser is wasting money and as a consumer, I don’t want an ad that is never going to be relevant to me.”
So far, clients seem receptive. Advocado has helped everyone from mattress retailers to for-profit universities and it offers its services not just to brands but to agencies and media sales organizations. Linihan said that the company has been profitable since coming out of beta in 2018 and now has about a million dollars in recurring annual revenue. Their forecasts say that figure may be in the $3-5 million range by year’s end as the specter of the pandemic continues to lift.
“It has really been in 2021 where we’ve been able to start to meaningfully scale revenue,” Linihan said.
Meanwhile, they’ve announced a three-year plan to add more than 100 high-paying tech jobs in the area.
As for the company’s unusual moniker, Linihan admits that they had a “really geeky title” for the cloud-based venture at the beginning. The new title was an idea that came from the business’s two other cofounders, one of whom suggested that the real time nature of the enterprise reminded him of the importance of getting a fresh avocado when making toast.
“There’s only a day that it is perfect,” Linihan said. “Otherwise, it is too ripe or not ripe enough if you get it too late or too early.”
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