Attention Measurement Startup Adelaide Snags $7 Million In Seed Funding From Human Ventures

Making it rain.

Former Fox executive Joe Marchese’s early-stage investment fund, Human Ventures, is paying attention to attention.

On Tuesday, Human Ventures announced a $7 million seed investment in Adelaide, a startup that helps advertisers measure and evaluate media based on attention rather than proxy metrics like viewability or video completion rate. This is on top of the $2 million Adelaide raised from a group of angel investors last summer.

Adelaide, whose clients include the NBA, Mars, Microsoft and AB InBev, is Human’s first stake in the attention economy, said Marchese, who co-founded the fund in 2015 with long-time investment executive Heather Hartnett, CEO of Human Ventures.

Human has a wide-ranging portfolio, from startups that focus on pet healthcare and fertility coaching to businesses developing plant-based protein and social AR. Its investments also include Headspace, the meditation app; The Muse, a career platform; and TheSkimm, a digital media company for millennial women.

The fund’s stated mission is to invest in startups that improve people’s lives in some way, whether that be wellness, food and nutrition, personal fitness or telehealth.

But all of these venture-backed businesses have something else in common: They spend a ton on marketing, advertising and customer acquisition. “But they don’t have the tools to understand whether the media they buy is working,” said Marchese, who has personal experience creating technology to try and capture human attention.

Between 2014 and 2015, Marchese was CEO of true[X], an ad tech startup that would serve interactive opt-in ad experiences in exchange for shorter commercial breaks. (21st Century Fox bought true[X] in 2015, and Disney, which inherited true[X] as part of its $71.3 billion deal to buy 21st Century Fox in 2019, sold the company to location vendor Gimbal in 2020.]

Although the idea of using attention metrics to measure media has been in the ether for years, it hasn’t caught on in large part because self-attributing networks, namely Facebook and Google, have attracted performance marketers with the promise of attributable ROI, Marchese said.

But the decline of third-party cookies and signal loss more generally is changing that dynamic, said Marc Guldimann, Adelaide’s founder and CEO.

“Advertisers are having a really hard time doing attribution at scale, which I’ve always viewed as a sort of crutch for broken currencies,” Guldimann said. “If you don’t know the quality of the thing you’re buying, you get really fixated on measuring every last output.”

And, by extension, really fixated on measures that don’t always correlate with outcomes.

“If you optimize towards things like viewability or video completion rate, you end up with small ads on big screens,” Guldimann said. “For the most part, those sorts of metrics have been gamed by the market, so they’re not super useful anymore – metrics create incentives.”

If inventory with a higher viewability rate garners better CPMs, for example, publishers will do whatever they can to raise their viewability rates. But this doesn’t have anything to do with creating a high-quality media environment, Marchese said.

“When advertising is being bought at the lowest-common denominator, we all know what we end up with, and it’s been a continued struggle,” he said. “But as media buyers buy on better-quality attention, you end up rewarding better-quality publishers.”

Adelaide plans to spend some of its funding to grow its Los Angeles and New York offices and open a new one in Chicago, with London on the agenda for some point next year. On the product side, the goal is to expand its coverage beyond the channels it already covers (linear, CTV, display, native and online video) to new channels, including audio and digital out of home.

But, more importantly, Adelaide is looking to strike as many partnerships as possible with DSPs, SSPs and media mix modeling companies. It already has integrations with The Trade Desk and Google’s DV360, and its attention data will soon be available as a Prebid filter.

The only way a new ad-buying metric can become a standard is if it’s accessible and easy to use, Guldimann said, which is one of the reasons attention has been slow to grow.

“Pushing our data into programmatic is critical for our clients who want to scale its use globally,” he said. “That’s the number one issue we hear from clients, that they want us to remove the friction and make this easier to implement.”

In 2020, Adelaide spun out of Parsec, a platform for selling media based on attention, to split Parsec’s media business from Adelaide’s measurement offering. In March, mobile ad exchange Kargo bought Parsec for an undisclosed sum.

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