TechBytes with Travis O’Neil, SVP of Operations at GumGum

TechBytes with Travis O’Neil, SVP of Operations at GumGum

Tell us a bit about GumGum.

We got our start and still derive the lion’s share of our business in the Digital Advertising industry, but GumGum is, more broadly, a technology company whose core competency is Machine Learning solutions that extract value from text, images, and videos.

We currently have both a sports sponsorship valuation business rooted in Computer Vision logo recognition technology, and an advertising business serving contextual targeting and brand safety intelligence solutions along with an array of proprietary ad formats for the programmatic and direct digital advertising industry.

What’s one thing GumGum does that makes the company stand out?

We’re the only Adtech company to incubate and spin out a dental AI startup at a hundred-million-dollar valuation! But, in the industry, we’re a company that pushes boundaries in terms of technology and creative. We’re the only company offering contextual targeting and anti-targeting solutions that use Computer Vision AI to actually look at images online rather than just scanning metadata and text like other solutions do.

But something I hear from clients all the time is how much our service stands out – our responsiveness to customer needs, our willingness to develop bespoke solutions to help clients achieve distinct business objectives is something I’m really proud of.

Define your new product – Verity.

Before we productized it, Verity was just the proprietary web content analysis engine we use to facilitate contextually relevant and brand-safe advertising across our exchange. We’re launching two productized iterations of that tech this year – one for publishers, the other for advertisers – so that you can have access to Verity’s benefits without having to transact exclusively on exchange.

The way Verity works is that it applies Machine Learning techniques to the text and imagery on web pages to understand the content. Pubs, DSPs and advertisers can use that contextual data to place ads in safe and relevant contexts. What’s special about Verity is that it isn’t just flagging unsafe or contextually relevant keywords like other solutions.

First, with Natural Language Processing it conducts a nuanced analysis of complete sentences and paragraphs to understand meaning and intent. Next, it uses Computer Vision to “see” what’s in an image. Then it combines what it learns from both the text and images to make its judgments. That’s what makes it so much more accurate than other so-called “contextual intelligence” products.

How would you define contextual targeting?

It’s a technique that advertisers use for reaching relevant audiences, which involves serving ads alongside content that is relevant to the product or brand being advertised or alongside content that is consumed by a target audience.

How are you addressing the death of the cookie?

To be honest, the death of the cookie is something we’re totally prepared for and, in fact, something we might even have been wishing for. We are a contextual advertising company. Look back at in-image, the first ad format we introduced – that format was conceived as a contextual format. We wanted ads that appeared within images to align with what was in the image.

An ad for a movie should appear in a People magazine photo of the movie’s star––that was just obvious to us. So, we have been investing in contextual analysis technology since the beginning, and we’ve never needed cookies to deliver high performing digital campaigns. The death of the cookie has really validated our contextual focus, while everyone else was addicted to behavioral, and it’s clearly added to our value proposition. It’s why we’re getting so much interested in Verity and why our ad business has seen such impressive growth in the past year.

Do you think this will impact publishers?

Publishers will be impacted just because advertisers are going to be fumbling around for a while as they acclimate to the cookieless world. But I actually think that it’s going to present an opportunity for some publishers.

Pubs who have a strong understanding of their content and how their users engage with it will have a real advantage because that is the information advertisers need to execute efficient, effective contextual campaigns. Pubs who can leverage those insights will see their inventory values increase dramatically because there will huge demand from advertisers looking for inventories with data-back value.

How has CCPA and other legislation impacted how your company handles its approach?

As a contextual advertising company, we really are not much affected by CCPA. We work with data companies when clients want to use behavioral targeting in a campaign, but we have never been in the business of collecting, trading in or profiting on consumer data.

Of course, our legal department has been absolutely stellar when it comes to dotting the I’s, crossing the T’s – and also educating everyone at the company on the legislation – to ensure our CCPA compliance.

What’s next for GumGum?

We have a very cool new non-interruptive animated in-video ad unit we’re launching soon. Later this year, look for an OTT version of the in-video unit, as well as the introduction of Verity for Brands to complement Verity for Publishers which we released last month.

This Is How I Work

One word that best describes how you work.


What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

I love Excel and have invested a lot of time figuring out the best way to use it. Being able to write and understand more complicated formulas has saved me countless hours.

What mobile apps do you use the most during the workday?

Slack and Gmail account for probably 90% of my phone usage during work.

What are you currently reading?

Honestly, Salem’s Lot. I try to read a balance of personal development books and entertaining books, but at the end of the day, I read a lot for pleasure and I love a good horror story.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

To be constantly trying to make myself redundant. There’s always another level of responsibility I can take on, but I can’t do it unless my current role is covered. This has allowed me to grow in my career, but it’s also kept it exciting and different. I’ve been at GumGum for 8 years and every year has been new and interesting for me.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

I think I’m adept at recognizing patterns. This allows me to break apart problems and solve them more quickly and efficiently and is particularly useful in Operations.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Rose Phillips, SVP of Digital Marketing at Sony.

As Senior Vice President of Operations at GumGum, Travis is responsible for the company’s global operations. He oversees the AdOps, Account Management, Sales Ops, Design and Business Intelligence teams worldwide, bringing over 10 years of experience in digital media leadership to deliver innovative and profitable solutions for GumGum’s long term success.

In addition to devising and executing global company strategy, Travis manages the execution and performance of media campaigns and maintains the financial health of GumGum’s media platform. Since joining GumGum in 2012, he has spearheaded numerous operational initiatives, including the development of the company’s Data Management and Data Visualization Platforms and the establishment of its AdOps and Business Intelligence teams.

Prior to GumGum, Travis worked in Business Development at comparison shopping platform Shopzilla/Connexity and held Operations positions at several non-profit organizations.

Travis holds a degree from the University of Minnesota and lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, son, and dog. When he’s not on the job, Travis enjoys fantasy sports, golf, and travel.


GumGum is an artificial intelligence company, with deep expertise in computer vision. Its mission is to unlock the value of images and videos produced everyday across the web, social media and broadcast television. Since 2008, the company has applied its patented capabilities to serve a variety of industries from advertising to professional sports. GumGum is based in Santa Monica, California, with eight additional offices in the US, the UK, and Australia. Pioneers in image science, GumGum is backed by leading investors including Morgan Stanley, NEA, Upfront Ventures, First Round Capital and Crosscut Ventures.