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Snap Continues Its Acquisitive Streak

By Evan Niu, CFA – Jun 7, 2017 at 7:55PM

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Some deals make more sense than others.

Snap (SNAP 4.24%) is uniquely acquisitive for such a young and newly public company.

The most recent purchase is Placed, for a reported $125 million to $200 million, according to Bloomberg. Placed is a small start-up that specializes in location analytics and attempts to tie in-store visits to ads. Attribution, targeting, and insights are Placed's primary offerings. The acquisition is wholly in line with Snap's efforts to improve ad measurement. Here's how Chief Strategy Officer Imran Khan described the initiative on the first public earnings call (emphasis added):

The third area of focus is proving the effectiveness of our advertising. Delivering metrics and proving ROI to advertisers has been a massive area of progress over the past 12 months. Today we have 13 different third-party measurement partners, and this list will continue to grow. We also invested heavily in Snap to Store, our own first-of-its-kind measurement offering. Snap to Store allows advertisers to measure foot traffic and demographics for Snapchatters after they see ads on our platform. These kind of location-based online to off-line measurement is a strength for Snapchat, and in many ways a Holy Grail of ad measurement.

Snap to Store sounds like precisely what Placed does.

So much for not being "creepy"

Some of Snap's acquisitions have been instrumental in Snapchat's evolution into the ephemeral photo/video sharing service that it is today. Snap has acquired 11 companies that we know of (including Placed), according to Crunchbase.

Snapchat logo

Image source: Snap.

For example, Snap acquired Looksery in early 2015 for $150 million, which provided the core technology that powers its animated lenses. There was also Bitstrips, maker of Bitmoji, for $64.2 million in 2016. At least one analyst thinks Bitmoji is an important competitive advantage over larger rivals, which is a pretty silly assessment.

Thanks to the IPO, Snap is flush with cash, closing out the first quarter with over $3.2 billion in cash and marketable securities. Meanwhile, competition is intensifying, so the company is deploying that money to build its immature ad platform, including pricey acquisitions. At an estimated $200 million when including stock payouts, Placed could be Snap's largest acquisition ever. There's a chance that investors will get more official disclosures in the next 10-Q.

Placed seems like a fitting acquisition, since Snap desperately needs to continue developing its ad platform, and ad measurement is a critical piece of that puzzle -- especially compared to Snap's other acquisition this year, Ctrl Me Robotics, which makes drones. (That joke of trying to become GoPro continues to be eerily close to reality.) The ad platform should be the company's top priority right now, while its other hardware product, Spectacles, is totally not worth it when you consider the economics and negligible impact on usage.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel famously expressed disdain for the "creepiness" of online ad targeting, vowing never to stoop to those levels. One could argue tracking users' online-to-offline activity sounds pretty creepy. Maybe that promise was just temporary, just like Snaps.

Evan Niu, CFA has the following options: long January 2019 $20 puts on Snap Inc. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends GPRO. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2019 $12 calls on GPRO and long January 2019 $12 puts on GPRO. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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