Mobile advertising and marketing was as expected a hot topic at the Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona. No less than 200 companies out of the almost 1,800 exhibitors offered products and services related to this field, with representation from key roles in the value chain such as network operators, advertising agencies, location-based services and navigation providers, mobile ad networks and exchanges. There was also a number of small start-ups demonstrating novel concepts or new takes on established mobile marketing technologies such as barcodes combined with NFC. In general, one could moreover easily detect an increased focus on mobile advertising solutions leveraging location data to increase the contextual relevance of ads served to mobile subscribers.
Location as a targeting variable is by no means a new concept. Targeting using position data of varying granularity has been offered by the major mobile advertising networks for many years. Sofialys and Verve Mobile – both major players within mobile location-based advertising (LBA) based in France and the US respectively – however revealed at the event that there is an on-going development in the industry. While major mobile ad networks such as US-based Millennial Media and Germany-based Madvertise traditionally have had a focus on scale, seeking above all other things to grow its reach, these players have now shifted towards promoting also location-targeting capabilities. Visiting the different exhibition halls at this year’s MWC confirmed this trend, as a fair share of the major traditional mobile advertising players emphasised their LBA-related competencies in exhibition booths and marketing brochures. Even platform providers such as Telenity have joined the game with dedicated LBA offerings.
Notably, there can also be an important difference between the location data used by major ad networks compared with LBA specialists. It is estimated that around 5–10 percent of all mobile ad impressions have access to GPS data from opt-in users, while certain ad networks and exchanges claim to cover over 70 percent of the impressions. The discrepancy is caused by systems which translate static data – most notably zip codes – into latitude/longitude coordinates in the same form as real-time GPS data, for example by determining the centre point of an area commonly referred to as a centroid. Most ad buyers lack the competence to distinguish true GPS data from centroids and similar workarounds. The providers with focus on LBA such as Verve Mobile are distancing themselves from these types of methods by clearly differentiating between real GPS data and static variables. The Weather Channel, which took part in the MWC presentation and panel “How not to build a mobile campaign”, is one example of an advertiser for which the use of flawed location data can be detrimental. As weather by definition is a hyper-local phenomenon, the company’s service lends itself well to creative ads with highly contextual personalisation. The contextualisation efforts can however be useless if relying on translated location information disguised as true GPS data.