Who's buying ads beyond Facebook-Google Duopoly?

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Pinterest is another one of tech’s darlings of the early decade that went public last month and also made its way above its private valuation after making its debut. But like Snap, and Twitter, Pinterest’s business depends on pitching its advertising product as something Facebook and Google don’t have. Pinterest has to convince brands that it has access to a different set of users with different behaviors, and as such looks to pitch that specialization to brands.

The challenge for Pinterest — and Snap, and Twitter — is that they are not Facebook or Google. Those are two platforms that chew up the majority of the advertising spend on the Internet (Brex customers are no exception) while the rest try to pick off what they can. The hope is that each platform will graduate from a brand’s “innovation budget” to a full, consistent customer base with access to different advertising products.

We examined data on customer spend on advertising platforms to find out more about the dynamics among customers buying ads with Brex. We have included LinkedIn advertising spend because it also represents an option beyond Google and Facebook. From this, we can get a snapshot of what spending looks like among early-stage startups and e-commerce companies — and where they are spending their advertising dollars.

As you’d expect, the majority of Brex customers buying ads are deploying it on Facebook or Google. Despite that duopoly, there still is a meaningful subset of Brex customers that are paying for Snap, Pinterest, and Twitter ads.

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But with respect to that, and the nature of these smaller advertising platforms, the actual spend distribution is minimal. That does fit with the overall theme of the Google/Facebook duopoly, which commands almost the entirety of brand advertising budgets. It also, again, explains why Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest’s market caps combined don’t even scratch a fraction of that of Facebook or Google.

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But this is pretty much taken as a known standard. For some brands, it may just not make sense to experiment with platforms beyond Facebook and Google when they have limited capital to deploy and bandwidth to manage multiple platforms and ad formats. Startups generally know what they’re getting with Facebook or Google — highly scalable, trackable, easy-to-use platforms with robust customer success stories. There could even be some scenarios where advertising performs better on the smaller platforms, but these businesses might not have the resources to take that risk.

eMarketer also showed Facebook and Google would dominate revenue share for digital ads in 2019, indicating Google would capture 38% of all revenue share and Facebook taking 22% before other platforms in 2019. (eMarketer data includes platforms like Verizon and Amazon. eMarketer data also includes YouTube advertising revenue.)

Each of these advertising platforms knows it has an uphill battle to try to capture both the attention and the primary advertising budgets that Facebook and Google command. So, we took a look at something much more recent: what advertising spend rolled over from March to April 2019 among the platforms. The goal here was to see if buyers are, at least, sticking with the platform when they decide to try it out.

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We can see that while Pinterest lags behind the other platforms in April, each platform has retained at least 40% of its Brex customer base from the prior month. This also follows the launch of Brex’s e-commerce product. Most advertisers maintain consistent spending across platforms, but here we see experimentation among Brex customers.

From all this, we see that the story for the past year has mainly remained the same: Facebook and Google own the world, and the rest of the advertising platforms are left picking up the leftovers and experiments. We expected this to be the case, but we have at least in the past month started to see some interesting pickup on those platforms by Brex customers who are sticking around. This is still a small snapshot of the advertising ecosystem, so there may be additional effects driving spend in platforms outside of Facebook and Google (which themselves may represent an opportunity for these platforms).

Will that be enough for Pinterest? Or Snap, or Twitter? LinkedIn has a wide variety of services beyond ads — and benefits now from the larger scale of Microsoft — but the other three are still finding their way to picking budget away from the duopoly. Now that Pinterest has finished up its IPO, each of these major platforms beyond Facebook and Google is now public — and the market will decide if these platforms still have the potential that turned them into public companies in the first place.


Brex examined monthly spending data for customers from August last year, two months after the Brex card launched. Startups spent on at least one ad platform among Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google, Snapchat, or LinkedIn. Total customer ad usage is defined as the percentage of Brex customers who bought ads for one platform with the Brex over the total number of customers buying ads.

Share of spend is defined as the percentage of the total dollar value spent on ads for each platform specifically over the value spent on all platforms. Repeat customers are defined as the set of Brex customers who paid for an ad on a platform in March 2019 that paid for an ad on the same platform in April 2019. The share presented above represents the total number of repeat customers over the total number of customers paying for an ad for that platform in April.

About Brex

Brex is transforming B2B payments by creating financial products that are tailored to specific industries like ecommerce. In 2018 Brex launched the first corporate card and rewards program specifically designed for startups. By rebuilding the credit card tech stack from the ground up, Brex is able to reimagine every aspect of corporate cards, including underwriting, transparency and approvals, to create a radically better experience for customers. Brex has raised $215M in funding and is backed by Y Combinator Continuity, Peter Thiel, Max Levchin and more. The company’s headquarters are in San Francisco.

We’re still early, and we welcome as much feedback as we can get. Also, we are hiring like crazy. Check out any openings we have!

As part of its underwriting process, Brex maintains visibility into the spending of companies that use its products. Companies who asked that their data not to be shared were not used, and any company that does not wish to share its data for future aggregated analysis may request to exclude it from being shared in the aggregate.

Photo credit: Benjamin Dada on Unsplash

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