Adriel brings automation to small business advertising

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Adriel is a South Korean startup bringing automated ad tools to small businesses — and in recent months, it’s been expanding into the United States and the United Kingdom.

This might seem like exactly the wrong time to be growing an ad-buying platform, since we’re at the beginning of what’s likely to be a tremendous pullback in ad spend due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, co-founder and CEO Sophie Eom told me via email that ad spend on Adriel increased by 7% in February, then by 6% in March, and she estimated that spend will be up by 8% in April.

“We all know that businesses are struggling from the uncertainty of the economic situations with COVID-19,” Eom said. “And most are hesitant about hiring agencies for their marketing and advertising efforts due to the high costs — in addition to the fact that many corporates don’t have enough knowledge about the right marketing processes.”

So why is Adriel still seeing growth? She argued, “We see that even in the midst of tough times, many startups and entrepreneurs are not giving up their businesses. In fact, they are shifting their focus and investments into more digital to reach their customers.”

As part of its response to COVID-19, the company is also donating ads to support small business customers in the San Francisco area.

Adriel’s technology automatically generates creative materials and suggests keywords for ads, as well as managing the targeting. But there’s also a human team that reviews campaigns and suggests ways to improve. The company does not require retainers or contracts, but charges a 19% fee on ad spend.

I first spoke to Eom at the end of 2019, when she was first expanding Adriel into the U.S. In some ways, it felt like a familiar pitch — I’ve written about companies like AdEspresso (acquired by HootSuite) and Smartly.io (which sold a majority stake to Providence Equity Partners last year), which also said they were optimizing or automating small business advertising. Plus, Facebook itself has launched an automated ad builder.

Eom suggested that while there are tools that sound superficially similar, there’s nothing quite like Adriel (which was part of Facebook’s Namsam Lab Korea incubator), with its multi-platform support for managing Facebook, Google and Instagram ad campaigns in one place, and with its focus on the true “long tail” of advertisers — she said the average Adriel client spends a relatively modest $1,000 per month on digital advertising.

“We’re not merely a self-service tool either,” she said. “We support and assist our clients in getting their ad placed, making their campaign more successful. We use technology to make all these processes more affordable for more business owners.”

She added that Adriel has launched 7,200 campaigns for nearly 20,000 business accounts.