Top 50 Advertising Startups for 2012

Mar 15, 2012 | By Timothy Mullaney
New York City may still be one of the hubs of the advertising world, but gone are the days when huge Madison Avenue firms ruled from on high - literally - with ad execs occupying corner offices in Big Apple skyscrapers. New media has transformed advertising, and upstart ad firms can be found across the country, as demonstrated by the following list of 50 top advertising start-ups. Not only are there diverse locations represented - from small towns to commercial centers, from coastal metropolises and tech hubs to a few international outposts - but there are diverse types of companies in this roundup.
Because start-ups usually begin with a compelling, original idea, and are free of the entrenched interests and bureaucracy that can stifle innovation, they are not typical businesses. Their culture reflects the personality and vision of their founders and earliest employees. Many of the companies listed below are growing fast and bringing on new workers rapidly, so if you discover a company that sounds like the kind of outfit where you'd like to work, it could be worth investigating further.
American Fork, Utah:
  • OrangeSoda: Though its clients are small businesses looking to advertise online, OrangeSoda itself is not so small, generating $19 million in 2010 revenue. It was ranked No. 1 on the Utah Valley Business Magazine's "start-ups to Watch" list.
  • Vitrue: Social marketing management is the name of the game at Vitrue, which is making waves in Georgia and has a long-standing insider relationship with Facebook that enables especially swift integration of marketing features as the world's No. 1 social media site evolves.
Austin, Texas:
  • Vendor, Inc.: This start-up does it all - advertising, design, furniture-making - and it has a few "non-negotiable, super-strict rules." These include "ideas still matter," "belong to people's lives," and "doubt the conventional."
  • Millenial Media: Winner of the 2011 American Business Awards Mobile Marketing Campaign of the Year for its Global Jackass 3D campaign, Millenial was also named one of the best places in the city to work by Baltimore magazine in 2012.
  • DataXu: This start-up describes its "tribe" as top marketing, analytics and computer technology minds from the world of academia, Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Madison Avenue, working together to create a globally scaled digital marketing solutions enterprise. The company recently acquired a European display engine marketing company, Mexad, headquartered in Germany.
Boulder, Colo.
  • Trada: Marrying crowd mechanics with online advertising savvy, Trada is run by a team that includes an inside sales rep trying to visit every microbrewery in Colorado and a data detective trying to ski every resort in the state.
Cambridge, Mass.:
  • Bluefin Labs: As you might expect from a Cambridge outfit, Bluefin combines serious academic firepower and a big idea with explosive commercial potential: actionable analytics about television audiences based on social media posts. The company's co-founder, CEO and chairman, Dr. Deb Roy, gave the most-viewed full-length TED talk of 2011, according to the company website.

Related Online Colleges for Marketing

  • Dean Media Group: "No 'jazz hands' here," says the DMG website, "just results." This pragmatic company offers a full range of advertising/marketing solutions to financial industry clients.
  • Marcel Media: This full-service online and interactive marketing firm is led by Kelly Cutler, elected the first female president of the Chicago Chapter of the Entrepreneurs' Organization in 2010.
  • Standing Dog Interactive: This niche digital advertising/marketing firm concentrates on clients in the hospitality industry, with major accounts including Omni Hotels and Rydges Hotels.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.:
  • Gay Ad Network: This agency specializing in the gay and lesbian market brought in $2.1 million in revenue in 2010. While this may seem paltry by advertising industry standards, consider that the start-up has only three employees and grew 563 percent in three years, according to Inc. magazine.
  • Intergi Entertainment: This agency in the greater Fort Lauderdale community of Deerfield Beach places in-game advertisements that reach 78 percent of all gamers.
Delray Beach, Fla.:
  • City Advertising: Pool cleaning companies, property appraisers, funeral homes, attorneys, auto repair outfits - the list goes on. All sorts of local businesses have turned to City Advertising's small business directories, SEO services and other tools to grow their web presence and win new customers.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates:
  • Noqoush: A start-up for true trailblazers, this mobile media company is breaking ground in the Middle East, which Cisco projected will have mobile media growth of 129 percent on a compound annual basis by 2015.
  • Bright Box: This brand marketing firm is not a place where "writers and designers drink creative acai berry juice, drink creative starfruit, and create in creative workspaces" - but it's also not a place staffed by "hyper-smart MBA minds who can recite the first 99 digits of Pi." Instead, it's a workplace that strives to keep creativity and analytic strategy in harmony.
  • Pop Labs: The self-described "Solutioneers" at Pop Labs serve small- and mid-sized businesses, helping these engines of the economy leverage the power of the Internet for advertising.
  • TopSpot Internet Marketing: In October 2011, the Houston Business Journal named this 45-person digital marketing agency one of the city's 100 fastest growing companies.
Irvine, Calif.:
  • Brand Up: This start-up would rather not be called an advertising agency, or even a marketing communications firm. As it says on the Brand Up homepage: "We like to describe ourselves as a Solutions Think Tank - but seriously, who really talks like that?" Clients run the gamut from PBS Kids to Infinium Spirits.
  • TapIt!: Fill rates! Rich media! HTML5 creation! It can be hard to get a handle on the world of mobile media, but this start-up has created a self-service mobile advertising marketplace that can be used by advertisers, agencies, mobile application developers and publishers.
Jersey City, N.J.:
  • Code Square: "CodeSquare is the brainchild of two dudes that wanted to let everyone express their passion for everything, anywhere." So says this start-up's website. The ambition is being realized through special QR codes that have advanced functionality.

  • Ohana Media: "Ohana" is a Hawaiian word, meaning "family," which gives an idea of the culture of the company. With a management team hailing from India and an office in Hyderabad, this large-scale digital marketing start-up is truly a global enterprise.
Las Vegas:
  • CPAlead: In 2011, this company celebrated its fifth birthday by bringing in $35.1 million in revenue. An example of ultimate start-up success. In 2012, it is rebranding as MONETIZEdigital.
  • Deluxe Marketing: Event marketing is one of the standout services of this company. Founded in 2003, it has retained a lean start-up attitude, employing just 12 people but generating $9.1 million in revenue in 2007.
Leesburg, Fla.:
  • That! Company: What started as a digital marketing and advertising company has expanded to include traditional channels, as well, making it a one-stop shop in Central Florida's "Lakefront City" of Leesburg.
Los Angeles:
  • Family Marketing: The family segment is one of the most sought-after demographics for advertisers, and this start-up provides valuable consumer contact information for highly targeted ad campaigns.
  • GumGum: Two is better than one. GumGum innovated in-image advertising, allowing websites to earn revenue by layering ads within the images on their pages.
  • Phenomenon: From about $1 million in revenue in 2007 to $15 million in 2010, this "creative think-tank" is indeed a phenomenon. The company is thinking big, with the stated goal of making brands an indelible part of the popular culture.
  • FourCubed: Two competitive poker players, an avid equestrian and a genuine Midwestern hockey mom lead this online marketing consulting firm in the Twin Cities.
  • Space150: This bold agency is out to "destroy convention," and offers a "manifesto" rather than a mission statement. Every 150 days, the firm "upgrades," getting new business cards, online design, even a new front door - so while the 12-year-old company might be just a bit long in the tooth for start-up status, its "version 29" is brand new.
New Haven, Conn.:
  • PaperG: The wizards at PaperG have developed a platform called PlaceLocal that can build an online ad for a local business in about a minute by scouring the web for information. The New York Times called it "an ad engine to put Mad Men out of business."
New York City:
  • ADstruc: With its dense population and plethora of bus stops, billboards and blank walls, few locations in the U.S. can rival New York City for out-of-home advertising opportunities. ADstruc uses the power of the web to revolutionize the way companies approach OOH advertising, making it more targeted and lucrative.
  • appssavvy: An appssavvy advertisement appears naturally within the flow of using a mobile application, placing ads in a "center-of-the-experience" context that maximizes effectiveness while minimizing intrusiveness. Investors include The New York Times and AOL.
  • Buddy Media: In a few short years, this dynamic start-up has opened global offices. Buddy's fun culture features ping-pong tournaments and "mustache Fridays," and the company is involved in many philanthropic causes.
  • C2C Outdoor: Subway domination! Wrapped buses! Giant wallscapes! C2C is transforming the way out-of-home advertising is done.
  • Datalot: One of the many tech companies to make Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood home in recent years, Datalot is already a big name when it comes to using the power of the Internet for customer acquisition, thanks to its performance based marketing platform.
  • Innovid: Advanced video advertising is the specialty of this fast-growing start-up, recently named one of the hottest companies in New York City by Lead411.
  • Likeable Media: Helping clients leverage social media tools to generate word of mouth, this start-up is run by an impressive husband and wife duo. Both have penned books - "Likeable Social Media" was written by Dave Kerpen and "Social Moms" by Carrie Kerpen.
  • LiveIntent: E-mail is more popular than beer! Citing Google Trends data, LiveIntent recently pointed this out in a blog post. The popularity of e-mail is good news for this start-up, which specializes in e-mail advertising.
  • MediaMorphosis: This full-service digital agency specializes in multicultural markets, and has served clients as big as the State Bank of India and as modest as the Delhi Heights Restaurant in Queens.
  • Show Media: For three years running, this innovative advertising company specializing in transportation-based campaigns has made Inc. magazine's list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S. placing No. 6 in 2011 with a three-year growth rate of 11,749 percent.
Redwood City, Calif.:
  • Wildfire: From huge companies like Target and Unilever to mom-and-pop businesses, this start-up is empowering enterprises by giving them tools to streamline and enhance their social media advertising and outreach.

Reston, Va.:

  • Resonate Insights: Whether you're running a political campaign or an ad campaign, Resonate can harness the "Big Data" about your target demographics to provide truly resonant - and actionable - insights about what makes consumers tick.
Rogers, Ark.:
  • Rockfish Interactive: Arkansas may seem an unlikely place for an advertising start-up to find its legs, but Rockfish has done just that. In five years, the digital-focused agency has positioned itself as a significant ad industry player, with revenue of $14 million and Sam's Club one of its major accounts.
San Antonio, Texas:
  • CallGrader: This start-up's management team includes a "chief gerbil herder," an "undercover panda bear" and a "chief beard inspector." All work together to provide small businesses with a way of measuring the effectiveness of marketing campaigns by grading the quality of sales calls generated.
San Diego:
  • Digispace Solutions: Bringing a Wall Street sensibility to SoCal, this start-up with players from financial giants like Morgan Stanley and American Express utilizes proprietary software to track and optimize ad campaigns via its suite of products, including enZo CRM, Inbox Results and RevenueLogix.
San Francisco:
  • Involver: An early entrant into the social media marketing realm, Involver has worked with clients such as Nike and the White House, and remains on the cutting edge of the industry with its Social Markup Language.
  • Kiip: Pronounced "keep," this start-up enables retail brands to offer rewards for people who beat a level on a smartphone game or meet other online benchmarks. You redeem your Kiip points for real things that you can keep!
San Jose, Calif.:
  • Compass Labs: Having secured $6 million in venture capital funding in February 2012, Compass is poised to make major inroads among advertising start-ups offering social media solutions. The company's signature product is a social media advertising tool called CLIQ.


  • Meteor Solutions: A space-age outfit based in the city of the Space Needle, Meteor points the way forward when it comes to maximizing the potential of social media sites as advertising spaces. One of its latest products allows companies to identify and target their most influential followers on social media.


  • Syncapse: Teamwork and equality are prized at this highly collaborative social media marketing firm, where every employee gets an ownership stake in the company.