Can Ad Tech Brands be Too Cool for School?

Luc Benyon 31 July, 2023 

Last month saw ad tech business Tremor International undergo a significant rebrand, bringing its portfolio under the new name Nexxen. In the process the ad tech industry lost one of the coolest brands around in Unruly, writes Luc Benyon, Global Director of Marketing at Watching That, a monitoring and analytics platform for CTV.

The ad tech brand landscape looks a lot different than it did just a month or two ago. 
Some distinctive, highly regarded brands have retired, and one or two newer players have emerged onto the field. Leaving product-market fit debates aside, can ad tech brands be as ‘cool’ as their cousins in social media, fintech or AI? 

The loss of Unruly cuts quite deep. For many Brits in the industry, it was a standard bearer, showing that ad tech could be both cool and successful. That coolness ran deep: Unruly was co-founded by Sarah Wood, a charismatic leader who was a breath of fresh air for the UK’s male-centric advertising and technology sector. They carved a new space in video advertising, and showcased their creativity – from trendy offices in hip parts of town, to smart partnerships.

The name ‘Unruly’ spoke to their disruptive nature, refusing to be pigeonholed, and agitating for change. Activations like their FutureHome installation – which travelled trade shows demonstrating the potential of connected homes – spoke to the vision and bravery of the Unruly brand. Among the product demos and free drinks parties on the conference floor, it showed that Unruly did things differently.

The various mergers and acquisitions that Unruly underwent are well documented. But it’s a testament to the strength of the brand that, even when paired with Tremor, the logo and identity stayed. Its visual distinctiveness and special place in people’s hearts clearly resonated; that’s the power of ‘brand’ – in a niche, B2B context.

But despite the distinctiveness of Unruly’s offering, it wasn’t deemed worth retaining as a brand. Unruly has merged with the rest of the Tremor family to become Nexxen. Like Magnite or Ogury, the name ‘Nexxen’ pulls off that cunning ad tech sleight-of-hand of meaning nothing, yet seemingly meaning everything at the same time. It’s a smart trick, which leaves the door open for lots of creative activations and brand explorations – if that’s the way the team choose to take it.

The new brand has potential; as their strapline says, ‘endless possibilities’. Let’s see how those possibilities manifest.

Hive mentality

Another brand that seems to be demonstrating creativity is MadHive. A similarly agitating name to Unruly, it uses a rich, warm colour palette, and the use of geometric shapes adds a playfulness not so often seen in the sector.


When the brand team are allowed to stretch their legs a little bit, you can see that they have a vision. The visual identity for their 2023 Cannes Activation employed animation, dynamic typography and a (very welcome) sci-fi influence. There were space-age physical installations at their parties too. It was all very trendy. And the commitment to a theme is also admirable.

But is coolness what people are looking for in their tech stack? It could be argued that reliability, trustworthiness and stability are traits more suited to the services ad tech vendors provide, and that branding should reflect these. 

Personally, I believe achieving distinctiveness in a vertical or market is the ultimate goal, and if coolness is the method of doing that, all the better. There’s enough blanding taking place in this sector, that a little spice makes things memorable.

Looking across to fintech, for example, it’s the disruptive brands with alluring names, and flashy distinctive assets (neon bank cards, slick apps) that have the traditional banks looking over their shoulders in fear. And fintech is just as reliant on trust and security as we are over here in ad/martech.

Brands occupying different concepts, ideas and aesthetics makes for a richer industry. Ultimately, even in the notoriously data-driven B2B industry, people make purchasing decisions using emotion and affinity, not always the ‘rational’ approach you might think. That means a brand that speaks to people at a human level is the most important thing. Thankfully there are still plenty out there.

The views here represent Luc’s personal opinions, not those of Watching That.

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