Seedtag, the ex-Googler-founded, cookie-free, AI-based adtech startup, taps $250M+ in funding

As regulation, platform dynamics and consumer choice continue to eat into the adtech stalwart known as cookies, it's leaving a gap in the market for advertising solutions that can work well without relying on cookie functionality. Today, an adtech out of Spain that's doing just this has raised a big round of funding to double down on the opportunity.

Seedtag, a contextual advertising startup that uses AI tools both to "read" content on a page to match that up with advertisers' aims, as well as to subsequently track how those ads perform, has raised "over" €250 million (more than $252 million, exact amount unspecified). The money is coming in the form of an equity investment from a single investor, Advent International, and it will be used to help the company expand beyond Europe, specifically deeper into the U.S.

Seedtag was co-founded and is co-led by Jorge Poyatos and Albert Nieto, two ex-Googlers, and as part of the investment Nieto will be relocating to the U.S. to help grow the business there.

“We’re very excited about this partnership with Advent," Nieto and Poyatos said in a joint statement. "This investment will massively accelerate our U.S. expansion, boost our growth and reinforce our team and the development of our technology. This move further supports our mission of building the global leading platform for contextual advertising, offering an effective solution for cookie-less advertising on the open web.”

The company is not disclosing its valuation with the round, but this investment is a significant step up for it. Founded in Madrid in 2014, Seedtag had only raised around $46 million in the last eight years, with past investors including Intelectium Business, Oakley Capital, All Iron Ventures and Adara Ventures. Its past investors are remaining shareholders with this round, along with the two co-founders. In another signal of its progress, it's picked up a number of big-name clients, including the likes of Unilever brands, LG, Levis and more.

The situation for these brands is that the nature of how they connect with consumers, raise awareness among them and even deliver their products have all been drastically changing in the last several years, pushed along by a massive swing toward digital screen usage, changing data protection and privacy priorities, and advances in technology, among other trends. And just as many of them were getting their heads around the move away from static, analogue campaigns for marketing, their understanding of how they can and should use digital platforms has changed, too.

One of the casualties of that has been the cookie -- the unit that had been built to track what users are doing online that could in turn be used to present more relevant information to them, based on that activity -- which has fallen afoul of privacy and security experts, and subsequently regulators and platform operators. Subsequently, they're now getting phased out of usage.

Seedtag is part of a wave of tech companies building what they like to describe as "privacy first" alternatives in advertising, typically solutions that continue to allow companies to serve ads in relevant places on programmatic platforms, but without collecting the kind of data that previously would have been needed to do so.

Seedtag has built what it describes as a "contextual AI technology," which it has branded "LIZ", which uses AI to do some of the work that cookies might have done in the past. It "reads" what is on a page or within a site, rather than what a user is browsing across all of the web, and combines that with its own algorithms to determine what kinds of interests that particular user might have, and serves ads that are in turn relevant to that particular experience, which appear within a particular piece of content.

What is less clear is how Seedtag tracks the effectiveness of that ad after it has been seen, if it's not using cookies. (I've asked and will update as and when I hear back on this point.)

In any case, as cookies become a more problematic, and definitely less effective, route for tracking user interest and intent, it will push more attention to a wider set of tools, and companies building them. The two co-founders both worked in industry analytics and strategy at Google so understand not just what adtech companies like Google built but what advertisers are looking to do, giving them a unique position in being able answer the big questions about what is lacking in the market today, and how to address that.

“Seedtag has established itself as a leading player in Europe and Latin America in the very dynamic contextual advertising sector. We are delighted to partner with Jorge and Albert as they continue to build on this momentum," said Gonzalo Santos, MD at Advent International and Head of Spain, in a statement. "With our international presence and deep sector expertise, Advent will work with the Seedtag management team to further expand the business internationally. We look forward to supporting this hugely exciting business to grow and scale-up and to taking it to the next level.”