WPP's Xaxis Acquires Verizon-Backed Mobile Ad-Tech Company

ActionX Tracks Anonymous Behavior of Mobile App Users Then Serves Ads Based on Behavior

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WPP's programmatic arm Xaxis has acquired mobile ad-tech company ActionX in a play to grow its share of mobile ad dollars.

The move, announced today, will give Xaxis the ability to better target ads within apps and more accurately tie user identities across devices, two capabilities ActionX built its business on.

"It's not a secret that cookies have limited utility in an ever increasing mobile world," said Xaxis CEO Brian Lesser. "There's lots of ways of solving that, but perhaps the best way is to work directly with an advertiser within their app and across other apps."

ActionX tracks the anonymous behavior of mobile app users and then serves ads to those users based on their behavior. It works primarily on behalf of the app owners. Its clients, such as the ecommerce website Jackthreads, often have logged in users, helping it match them across devices.

ActionX is backed by Verizon Ventures, an intriguing connection now that carrier is more actively using its data to help make mobile advertising more effective. There is no current ad technology partnership between the two companies.

The acquisition comes at a time when mobile advertising looks a lot like the wild west. Cookies used to track users on the web are ineffective on mobile devices, making it difficult for advertisers to tailor ads to mobile users and coordinate campaigns across devices. Such an environment has pushed ad spending to those with a solution to the problem, with large companies like Facebook in the best postion due to their wealth of logged in users. Mobile ad spending, at the same time, is booming.

The mobile ad market is expected to grow from $19.15 billion last year to $28.72 billion this year, according to eMarketer. Fifty-two percent of mobile ad dollars this year will go to Facebook and Google, eMarketer estimates, with the next in line, Twitter, capturing only 4.2%.

In an interview, Mr. Lesser and ActionX CEO Evan Schwartz made the argument that the mobile ad market is moving from driving user acquisition and app installs to smarter, more behavior-based goals. "A lot of major brands are building apps and investing a lot of money building their app audience but very few of them are unlocking the data that's inside of those apps," said Mr. Schwartz. "We can connect the dots from that data to the mobile web data and the desktop data."

ActionX, founded in 2012, was a 26-person company based in New York City prior to the acquisition.

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