Targeting The Small Screen

With 160 million Internet-enabled cell phones already in circulation today, over 20 million people surfing the Web from their phones regularly, and close to 5 million Americans now owning video-enabled handsets, the small screen is clearly ready for prime-time advertising. One of the biggest hurdles advertisers have faced till now, however, has been how to effectively target and deliver ads to that huge audience. In the conversation below, Tom Burgess, CEO of Third Screen Media, one of the first wave of ad networks devoted to the new medium, explains how the age of targeting is finally dawning for mobile.

Behavioral Insider: Is mobile advertising conducive to effective targeting?

Burgess: More than any other medium, the mobile phone is inherently personal. It's something that lends itself naturally to the most personalized approaches to marketing. [This] leads to the conclusion that the cell phone should be the perfect environment for the most advanced forms of targeting.

BI: How will mobile targeting be different from the forms of behavioral and other targeting we see on the Internet?

Burgess: The first thing that's different about mobile is that, unlike conventional online, which is one channel, mobile is made up of four totally different channels. There's the mobile Web. There's video broadcast and VOD, and also downloadable Java applets and games. And, last but not least, text messaging. So the wealth of targetable data is incredible. If you can target across all four channels, you have the basis for extremely effective customized marketing.

BI: What kinds of data need to be folded into an effective targeting platform?

Burgess: There are three pieces to track. First, there's static data. That's the basic demographic information about age, gender, income and geography. Then there's generated data, the number of impressions, click through and traffic data. From there you can track actual usage behaviors.

BI: What is the status of targeting mobile users, and are the near-term hurdles technological or cultural?

Burgess: Right now we're limited essentially to generated data. We can target by handset, device type, day part, browser, carrier and content....We can target nationwide, or by local geography with 25-, 50-, or 100-mile radiuses from a single zip code. We can target on a content basis from the over-40 different content partners from news and sports to dining out... In addition, [we can] link advertisers and publishers of mobile content together in an exchange that houses all the available ad inventory for mobile in a single Web-based directory, and lets you plan and purchase mobile media down to each target zip code.

BI: Do you see the ability to work with analytics from demographic information coming anytime soon?

Burgess: Tier-one carriers are still wrestling with the implications of how to work with demographic targeting information.

From a big-carrier perspective, there are two contradictory impulses at work. On the one hand they want to guard personal data, both because they are used to seeing customer information as proprietary, and also, obviously they don't want to be perceived as betraying customer's privacy. On the other hand, they see they have a rich store of data to leverage.

From a consumer point of view, there's nothing more annoying than getting spam or even just plainly irrelevant messages on your cell phone. [Marketers] are wary of advertising for that reason. But [users] also crave content they can use or that's directly relevant to their interests. So the trend that will drive mobile advertising into better and better targeting platforms is the need by both carriers and consumers for better content and more of it. We may be at the threshold of a collaborative breakthrough based on enlightened self-interest.  Carriers want more relevant content. In order to pay for that content, providers need more relevant advertising, and in order to justify that, advertisers need an optimally targetable platform to advertise in.

BI: Do you see major progress occurring this year in pushing that process?

Burgess: Yes. What we're looking at is finally breaking the carrier content silos that have held up targeting potential. Part of the catalyst is the commercial self-interest of all the participants in the industry--and part is technological. Now portal gateways are on the horizon and will begin to be used this year to bring together the three data streams I mentioned above, allowing advertisers to track customers across all three realms. The technology platforms are being hammered out. What we've developed is an end-to-end ad delivery, tracking and management platform that can unify mobile Web, or WAP, downloadable Java, video and text messaging content and data. Targeting parameters we're using already include geography, carrier, device, keyword, and day part. But the big step we're moving to now is to integrate external databases with customer demographics and behavioral information. We're working now with a wide range of carriers and content providers. Experimentation is ongoing--and this summer we plan to release the first case study showing results of tracking mobile customers.

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