Marketers want to reach as many eyeballs as they can to get their
messages heard. Then again, they also want to reach the right eyeballs.
How close can mobile advertising get?
The mobile advertising industry takes great pride in its ability to target consumers. Rarely does a press release from a mobile advertising vendor come out that doesn’t mention the word “target.”
Yet how targeted can mobile advertising get, considering carriers closely guard customer information? For all the hype surrounding mobile advertising, Jason Spero, vice president of marketing at AdMob, provides what he calls a voice of reality. As of late last year, “we still have some work to do to deliver the granularity of targeting that interactive media buyers have come to expect online,” he said.
In other words, the mobile industry doesn’t yet offer a reliable way to reach soccer moms who drive SUVs in Phoenix. “We do a good job of reaching moms, and we’re starting to do a good job of reaching Phoenix,” he said. AdMob is investing in technologies so that one day, it will be able to reach those soccer moms driving SUVs in Phoenix. For now, however, AdMob is focused on delivering what its advertisers need every day, and judging by repeat customers, it’s doing just fine, according to Spero. AdMob serves more than 5 billion mobile banner and text ads per month.
Eric Eller, senior vice president of products and marketing at Millennial Media, said the SUV-driving soccer moms in Phoenix could be found, but probably not with enough reliability and scale that would make a large advertiser happy. The most difficult part would be finding the SUV drivers. One method of figuring it out might be using an index on who’s likely to own an SUV in a certain part of town, like suburbs versus city limits.
“We do see a lot of very interesting requests,” Eller said. A couple years ago, an agency wanted to find CFOs living in Denver and Phoenix. The location part was challenging but do-able, but getting that specific on the occupation proved too much. Nowadays, more content is geared toward business professionals, but it still wouldn’t be an easy task, he said.
Mobile ad networks can figure out what carrier and device the end-user is using, and social networking sites can lead to more information about registered users. Then it’s possible to figure out if someone is a 35-year-old man living in San Francisco. Mobile ad networks also can recognize repeat visitors and make sure they don’t show the same ad too many times to one person. But the popularity of family plans also makes it difficult to find out a lot of specifics about individual users. A family might have a teen-ager and a grandparent on the same plan, but it’s hard to say who’s on which line. Traffic or usage patterns might provide clues, but how do you know for sure who’s using the phone?
The oft-used concept of sending a coupon to someone as they walk by Starbucks is very untargeted, said Chris Cherry, director of communications industry strategy at Pitney Bowes MapInfo. What MapInfo is working on is a system that combines location and demographic information; the thought being that just because you’re walking by a GAP store doesn’t mean you wear GAP clothes.
MapInfo employs demographers who look at census data and add their own research to it. It’s a labor-intensive process, but the company has come up with 74 block group types in the United States, Cherry said. The real value of the information comes if carriers share customers’ addresses. They don’t do that yet, but Cherry said he believes the savvy wireless service provider will recognize the value of the information they have and find ways to use it while protecting individuals’ privacy. “You need that back-end processing, if you will,” he said. “That’s where the wireless provider starts to become a lot like a de-facto ad agency. That’s the question mark.”
Of course, there’s more than one way to target consumers. Intera targets users based on their location using Bluetooth nodes spread over geographic areas. For example, it has done campaigns along San Francisco’s Pier 39, directing people to RocketBoat rides and the Hard Rock Café.
Every Bluetooth device has a unique address, and because of that, Intera knows whether someone has seen an ad before. It also can determine where the person was when they saw the ad and tie the person’s location with an ad. “We can provide very detailed analytics,” said Intera CEO Kevin Thornton. “When someone comes within range, we know which zone they’re in so we can do campaigns targeting specific zones.”
On some levels, it’s similar to grocery store loyalty cards, but the grocery stores don’t know where you’re at until you’re at the checkout counter. With Intera’s Bluetooth system, it is possible to determine which part of the store a person is in and send ads or discount offers based on that. It can even be extended to other parts of the store, such that if the store manager knows how many people are coming in, he or she can open more checkout counters.
IN THE CONVERSATION
Yet another way of targeting consumers is to find out what kind of questions they’re asking. ChaCha considers itself the fastest growing search company in the United States. Consumers call 1-800 2ChaCha or text 242242 and ask questions; a short time later, ChaCha’s human guides will deliver the answer. Eighty-five percent of ChaCha users are in the under-25 age demographic.
“We have conversational relationships with our ChaCha users,” said Jay Highley, chief marketing officer. “It’s really simple for brands and advertisers to get in the middle of that conversation.”
ChaCha can target geographically as well as based on time. For example, some campaigns want their messages going out only on Thursday or Friday nights. A brand can say it wants to reach females under 25 who live in Denver and love jazz.
Targeting is not always necessarily right for every advertiser. There is a point where targeting has less and less impact, noted Ad Infuse President and CEO Brian Cowley. “It depends on what kind of product you’re trying to sell and promote,” he said. A brand like McDonald’s might want to reach a wide audience, but a car maker may want to get more specific about reaching more affluent subscribers who meet its demographic.
That said, “you don’t want to get gender wrong,” he said. A male doesn’t want to get a product designed with a female in mind, and vice versa, especially on a device as personal as a mobile phone.
At times, real specific targeting sounds a little Big Brother-ish, but the popular industry belief is as an end-user, you won’t mind if you’re getting messages from someone as long as they’re relevant to your interests and profile. “Nobody wants to have any one entity know so much about you that they know more about you than you know yourself,” said Forrester Research analyst Neil Strother. “It’s creepy if it gets used in a bad way or it’s abused … but I guess I’m not a doom and gloomer, even though abuses are possible. I don’t look for abuses to be the norm.”
“The targeting will become more sophisticated than it is today,” he said. “It’s a young medium.”
|Flu Initiative Targets Early Adopters|
How about targeting people who can’t afford to get sick? Matrixx Initiatives, makers of the Zicam Cold Remedy, wasn’t much interested in a particular demographic when it launched the Zicam Cold & Flu Companion mobile application last month. Rather, it wanted to reach the early adopters of technology – people who can’t afford to get sick, explained Albert Hwang, brand manager for Matrixx Initiatives/Zicam. So, it launched the app with the T-Mobile USA G1 Android phone and the Apple iPhone with AT&T.
The application alerts users to the prominence of flu and cold episodes in their region, or the region where they’re traveling, and offers coupons and references to the nearest retailers with Zicam, a medicine that promises to ward off cold and flu symptoms. “We consider ourselves innovative in that area,” Hwang said, adding that the company also wanted to demonstrate innovativeness in its marketing.
Essentially, the product uses the ZIP code and information from Surveillance Data Inc. to deliver the local information; the application was developed with the help of HandStorm. “If you think about our target [audience], they can’t afford to get sick. They’re early adopters. We’re finding that niche of early adopters technology-wise and healthwise …We think there’s a pretty good fit there.”