Is Audience Buying Possible In Mobile Advertising?

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Mobile Audience Buying
Audience buying in PC-based display has been cranking for years but with special restrictions in mobile around identifying the user, is mobile audience buying even possible?

With this challenge in mind, AdExchanger.com asked a range of representatives on the mobile side of the digital ad ecosystem the following question:

"Is audience buying possible in mobile advertising?"

Click below or scroll down for more:

Michael Collins, CEO of Joule, a mobile marketing company of GroupM

"At this time, mobile audience buying is a promising proposition that is still in its infancy. Technology limitations, OS fragmentation, differences between mobile web and application platforms and consumer privacy concerns have so far prevented mobile marketers from compiling unique user behaviors and data with great scale and accuracy.

That said, recent advances in mobile technology and data matching along with the proliferation of smart, cookie-enabled devices are combining to enable greater accuracy in unique identification. Mobile re-targeting is available with select publishers, within their inventory and based on cookie or registrant information, and several mobile DSPs have emerged using third party data to enable audience targeting on a very limited basis.

Additionally, several publishers and research companies are investigating the audience buying across both mobile and online. This will require not only the emergence of a proven mobile audience buying model, but the ability to link a user across both platforms to form a comprehensive view of that user’s digital behavior."

Simon Khalaf, president and CEO, Flurry

"Mobile advertising today is where online display advertising was in the late nineties.

On the supply side, publisher inventory is sold directly, or through a dozen networks with little-to-no audience segmenting or targeting capabilities. Some publishers have used analytics tools to segment their own audience in order to better position their inventory, and some have used mediation tools to sell the inventory through multiple networks.

On the demand side, clients and agencies lack a platform that aggregates the audience, allows them to effectively buy through trading desks, and executes any measure of targeted campaigns. Some agencies rely on analytics and audience measurement tools supplied directly by publishers to evaluate an audience prior to buying the publisher inventory, but still haven’t integrated these tools into agency tracking systems.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, as more of the online budget moves over to mobile, solutions will emerge to streamline mobile audience selection, buying, serving and tracking."

Bob Walczak, entrepreneur and former CEO of Ringleader Digital

"The definition of 'true' audience targeting is taking offline data (PRIZM, Expirian, Targus...etc.), and attaching it to a unique user ID. The impression is then represented on an exchange or RTB platform for real time acquisition. The Unique ID on the mobile web and applications is the core reason Audience buying is not happening in mobile, at scale. The main issue is that there is no standard for creating a unique ID for offline data to be attached to, which is where the value is added from a targeting prospective.

The basic flow of audience targeting is Device>>CMS>>Exchange>>DSP so to resolve the issue I’d argue the exchange is in the best position to address it. There are two separate environments exchanges have to consider and the solutions / issues are different for both…mobile web and applications. M-web and Apps are sandboxed, meaning they look like two separate users. Leaving this alone for a minute, the place to start is identifying the m-web user uniquely and the App user uniquely and then they can be correlated later in a database. Regarding M-Web the best idea here is only focus on smartphones with Javascript enabled, this will cover 60% of the traffic on mobile web or 30% of total mobile traffic. On the application side the UDID can’t be used explicitly but it can be double anonymized to the exchange in a standardized way. The last step, once the exchange has uniquely identified the M-Web user and the App user, then the exchange can use a one-to-many cookie proxy to pass the ID and ad request to the DSP’s.

Net-net we’re 12 months away, at best, from audience buying that compares to the online environment. The way it will launch is when an exchange, online or mobile, solves the unique ID issue in a standardized way."

Pat Connolly, Vice President, Group Director, Digitas (Publicis)

"Audience buying in today’s mobile media landscape is alive and well, however there’ a need for us to evolve the way we define audiences to truly take advantage of the data available to us in the mobile space.

Audience buying as it was initially defined in the desktop space was based almost entirely on leveraging cookies that defined specific parameters of an audience, based on a variety of factors including commerce, click-stream and social data. While the availability of cookies across sites, carriers and platforms in the mobile space is suspect at best, an evolved look at how we define audiences using the data we have in mobile, such as profile and location-based data, still provides a rich environment for defining, and ultimately buying those audiences.

Profile-based data from carriers such as AT&T and OS providers such as Apple provide a deep level of audience definition, including age, HHI, app download histories, purchase history and more. The obvious drawback of rich data sources such as these are they’re often limited in scale as the defined data set is often tied to the inventory that party represents, as is the case with iAd and Apple.

Location based data may provide the richest opportunity for audience definition. A visit back to the days of direct mail shows how we can get rich audience data based on location alone, geo-fencing provides an additional layer to that data set allowing for richer audience definition.

While the basis for audience definition and buying exists in the mobile space, scale continues to be a challenge. Data sets are often tied to specific inventory and challenges with standardization of measurement, ad serving and creative all continue to fragment audience definitions into smaller sets. However, as the media community continues to move more dollars to align with mobile consumption, standardization will come, and so will scale."

Krishna Subramanian, Co-Founder, Mobclix (a division of Velti)

"Audience buying has been evolving through behavioral targeting. Today, on mobile, it exists in its most elementary state. Data is the main stopping point in making sure mobile audience targeting gets the same success as it has online. As audience buying becomes more prevalent across mobile advertising, it is crucial to consider the following key points:

  1. Mobile Apps are the Future of Mobile Data - they will be a much better source of data in the future because identities persist throughout an app users lifecycle.
  2. Website Publishers Will Become More Integrated with Advertising Providers - advertisers will need to gain access to first-party data because only first-party cookies are available.
  3. Server Side Data Processing Will Become More Important - An increase in processing and user targeting will be crucial on the server because of data siloing between apps and websites. The majority of the data-share power circle could be controlled by publisher platforms, analytics companies and gaming networks.

Mobile audience buying in the near future will allow advertisers to buy across platforms and devices thus linking data from cell phones to desktops to TVs. However, tying data to devices without the use of cookies will be the key!"

Eric Litman, CEO, Medialets

"Buying audience is possible today, but in its current state there are both limits and risks for buyers. Inventory available via programmatic buying models is largely constrained to mid-market and long tail publishers, and there is not yet a robust enough data economy to allow marketers the precision of targeting they have online. Moreover, the transparency offered by networks is generally limited, and that lack of transparency can lead to situations like the one we saw recently where a P&G brand, Pampers, appeared via Apple's iAd network in a sex-focused app.

Audience buying has value, but not at the expense of context and creativity. The OPA and others have shown that top of the funnel brand activity benefits from placement within properties that have a natural affinity to the brand, such as fashion and luxury brands buying in Vogue or an enterprise software company buying in the New York Times. The ideal, scalable solution would combine audience data, complete media transparency, the opportunity to select or deselect distinct properties within a media plan, high-value inventory and the ability to run high-engagement creative in both guaranteed and non-guaranteed inventory."

Jamie Wells, Director of Global Trade & Product Marketing, Mobile, Local and Commerce, Microsoft

“Audience buying in mobile is not only possible, but can be done at scale via exchanges that have both mobile app and browse inventory. Targeting is accomplished differently in mobile versus the PC web primarily due to the absence of persistent cookies across a critical mass of mobile devices. As a result the mobile industry has evolved past the browser cookie, often relying on encrypted, anonymous IDs associated to the device or user. Obviously great care must be taken to safeguard any user data used for audience targeting, because the personal nature of the device makes mobile privacy so important.”

Clay Bavor, Product Management Director, Mobile Ads, Google

"Increasingly, advertisers are thinking about audiences as independent of any specific device or form factor, and so audience buying across both mobile and desktop is becoming more and more important. The challenge on the mobile side of the market is that it's even more complex than traditional display. There are essentially no standards, and there are big differences from desktop in how ads are served, displayed, and measured. These differences make audience buying on mobile more difficult -- and create a lot of opportunities for innovation. I expect we’ll see some big jumps here in the year ahead."

Liz Zalman, co-Founder, Media Armor

"The beauty of mobile is its potential for true consumer-specific communication. There is no question that mobile provides a more one-to-one medium than a home computer ever will. With the addition of real-time location feedback and the fact that devices rarely leave our palms, the attraction becomes irresistible.

Now, we have an opportunity to co-opt technology from online and apply that to the user-specific communication afforded by mobile. Advertisers can engage consumers in a dialogue of display responsive to that unique's behavior. In doing so, mobile moves forward by returning to its roots as a means of communication. And then for me personally, the fun comes when we dive in and understand how that interaction impacted future decisions."

Are Traasdahl, CEO, TapAd

"Yes, it is possible, there is data and inventory in-market today. Mobile audience buying is primarily based on the advertisers first-party visitor data but there is the beginnings of audience buying based on 3rd party intent data."

Gabriel Cheng, Director of Media, Ansible

"With the proliferation of smartphones and the shift of internet usage from desktop to mobile, there’s definitely a growing volume of mobile impression inventory. But the obvious hole in mobile is the ability to segment this inventory by audience data. Two fundamental issues limit buying at scale.

First is a technological one. As compared to desktop, mobile has a very small subset of devices that support cookies. Most have 3rd party cookies disabled or are automatically cleared after each session. Second is privacy. With all the recent scrutiny around the use of UDIDs, mobile audience buying has taken a step back. The UDID was mobile’s equivalent of the cookie for audience buying.

But there is hope. As tracking and privacy become standardized, companies are developing new technologies for targeting. Some are experimenting with “device fingerprinting” which is masking the UDID in order to target based on a user’s in-app behavior. For example social network apps can provide a lot of rich data based on what users are tweeting or following. Or publishers with large registered audiences have the opportunity to monetize their desktop data to mobile if they log into both environments. For example Yahoo has a tremendous overlap with their logged in audience. We are even beginning to see creative ways of IP bridging or the use of the phone’s HTML5 storage.

The most important contribution of mobile, however, is not just finding audiences, but converting audiences. Advertisers buying mobile audiences are benefiting from mobile’s much higher response and conversion rates compared to desktop. In addition, mobile has the unique ability to intercept hand raisers, for example in store, and help turn them in a customer."

By John Ebbert

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3 Responses to “Is Audience Buying Possible In Mobile Advertising?”


  1. The initial respondents identify the real paradox: that mobile represents a unique opportunity to bring personalized and situational advertising to consumers, at the same time mobile advertising is struggling with passing data for audience targeting. The causes are many, but the end result is NOT THE INABILITY to target -- it's the inability to target to mobile’s true potential. Today, publishers can pass key data. So the question of whether it is possible should be rephrased to how do we make it even more powerful, staying well within consumer privacy guidelines? Each actor in the play has a role to drive progress: publishers and developers can pass the data they have and do so in a transparent basis to enhance audience profiling; exchanges can make that data and linked third-party data available at the impression-level to narrow and focus audience buying while, in partnership with the ad sources, respect privacy and data ownership; and demand platforms, buyers, and advertisers can prime the “business case” pump by ingesting and valuing the data appropriately. We all know mobile is evolving; but we also know we are on a path to fulfill mobile's true potential for advertisers to reach and compel consumers.

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