Mobilizing Beyond the Cookie: Mobile Platforms Lurch Toward RTB Efficiencies

by , May 18, 2012, 12:58 PM
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It's hard to imagine a platform more ripe for real-time bidding than mobile. The inventory is massive, exactly the kind of environment where programmatic buying and nano-second impression-level targeting can find the view that is of most value. The variables are staggering in terms of data layers that can add to the usual online mix points such as  location, situational awareness, etc. And of course you have an audience that is itself a moving target, where the context in which the ad is being seen is changing in real time. But when it comes to applying real-time bidding technologies to the mobile ecosystem,  the unique technological hurdles are going to be daunting.

“The technology is not there, and there is no reason to believe there will be for cookies,” admits Ernie Cormier, CEO and President of early-in-mobile RTB platform Nexage. He was part of a panel at Wednesday’s OMMA RTB focusing on the prospects for real-time bidding on mobile. And the panelists had to struggle to keep us all from feeling a bit skeptical that we would see the sorts of precision and technological sophistication applied to mobile that we are seeing already in Web display. Cormier explained how the unlikelihood of a cookie on mobile required that ad targeting leverage supply-side data. Device identification and carrier can serve as a proxy for behavioral attributes and demographics. “You can wrap supply-side and third-party data around the impression to use in decisioning on the platform,” Cormier says. A device ID or even a passalong of a search string from a publisher might serve as ways to infer the user.

On the buy side, Jason Clanchette of Liquid Wireless acquires billions of impressions that he then converts to leads at a range of topic-specific mobile sites the company runs. He needs to use exchanges and ad networks because no single mobile entity right now has the scale to bother buying. On the supply side, the panelists contended, many of the app developers and publishers either aren’t selling their otherwise good inventory or they are unable to profile their audiences adequately in the marketplace. Jennifer Lum of Adelphic says her company is trying to build tools that help these publishers profile their audiences and traffic. “The volume and users are there, but they need to make the media sellable,” she says.

One of the most interesting point to come out of this panel, in fact from the OMMA RTB show overall, was the notion that old ideas of “premium” or “good” inventory have to evolve. As a number of panelists throughout the day argued, under demand-side platforms that are assembling and optimizing audiences in real time, the “best” inventory is the one that works, not necessarily the one that sits on a marquee property.  The inventory that matters most in an RTB universe is one that is rich in data, some of the panelists argued. An impression coming from a familiar media brand that has no data attached to it may sell, but not at much of a price.

But the app environment also is creating new “premium” every day. “It can be Angry Birds inventory,” says Cormier. “Why wouldn’t it be thought of as premium?” Or, for the guy within 100 feet of Mom and Pop’s Dry Cleaner, almost any opportunity to make him aware of the service nearby suddenly becomes “premium,” regardless (almost) of its adjacent content.

As a number of people pointed out on this panel, getting RTB up to speed on mobile is not a matter of merely applying the technology and techniques as we know them to another hunk of inventory.  

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