Mobile Ad Targeting, Tracking Is Work In Progress

Extending ad-targeting techniques from the desktop to mobile devices has long been a challenge for marketers, mainly because of the lack of cookies. In the absence of a universal tracking mechanism, advertisers have had to rely on different methods to follow mobile users.
Apple allows tracking through its IFAs (Identifiers for Advertising), and Google has its own identifier, Android ID. The accuracy of these device IDs is typically 95% or higher, but their use is currently limited to mobile apps, according to a new eMarketer report, “Mobile Ad Targeting: After Years of ‘Spray and Pray,’ Signs of Sophistication Appear.”

Then there are more invasive approaches like “digital fingerprinting,” which entail tracking specific device attributes, like the list of fonts installed, or running some type of software on the device. However, such methods are typically considered beyond accepted consumer privacy boundaries.

More recently, a number of companies, such as Tapad, Drawbridge and Adelphic Mobile, are touting cross-device tracking as people adopt a growing range of connected gadgets. Behind their solutions is the concept of a statistical ID that tracks a user’s habits across both apps and the mobile Web by analyzing hundreds of data points, including device model, browser version and IP address.

But it’s not perfect -- even its proponents make claims of only 70% to 80% accuracy. More reliable when it comes to cross-device tracking is the log-in data held by companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, eBay and Yahoo. The drawback is that a user may not log in on every device, so coverage can be limited.

“To sum up, significant progress has been made to track mobile users in more reliable and privacy-friendly ways. However, marketers still have to juggle multiple IDs. That is not likely to change in the near future. In fact, as new Web-enabled devices come to market, the variety of IDs is likely to increase further,” stated the report authored by eMarketer analyst Cathy Boyle.

In that vein, think of the emerging new category of wearable devices from Google Glass, from fitness bands to smartwatches. To date, the vast majority of targeted ads have been served to smartphones. On InMobi’s ad network in the fourth quarter, for example, 77% of impressions served were for smartphones,and 17.3% on tablets and connected devices.

That’s partly because smartphones are used steadily throughout the day, giving marketers more opportunity to hit users with ads. But with tablet audiences growing -- up to 44% penetration in the U.S. at the end of 2013, per a Pew survey -- advertisers are increasing spend across screens.

An August 2013 poll by the Association of National Advertisers  (ANA) and Nielsen found that two-thirds of marketers spent up to a quarter of their media budget on integrated multiscreen campaigns. Almost half (48%) said it was very important to their marketing efforts in 2013, and 88% expected it to be very important in 2016.
The report points out that, as on the desktop, marketers can gain insights from the type of content consumed on devices. Mobile analytics firm Flurry, for instance, segments consumers using apps on its analytics platform into roughly 40 targetable personas (psychographic categories). Millennial Media and mobile ad networks use third-party data from firms like BlueKai and Acxiom to enhance audience profiles.
When it comes to location targeting, the loudest buzz lately is around indoor tracking technologies like Apple’s iBeacon and PayPal’s Beacon. Both use Bluetooth low energy (BLE) signaling to pinpoint the location of a mobile device through small transmitters installed in retail stores or other locations, like a ballpark.
That would allow retailers or brands to send targeted messages to customers within specific store departments. With major chains like Macy’s and American Eagle Outfitters, as well as Major League Baseball, rolling out iBeacon-based marketing programs, more data about performance should emerge during 2014.

But increased indoor tracking could also spur a backlash. Last month, the think tank Future of Privacy Forum launched a Web site,, which allows visitors to opt out of location tracking by entering their phones' 12-digit WiFi or Bluetooth Media Access Control (MAC) address



1 comment about "Mobile Ad Targeting, Tracking Is Work In Progress".
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  1. Anni Paul from BoscoSystems, March 20, 2014 at 1:01 a.m.

    It's a work in progress, but there's definitely progress, especially when you look at top ad networks like (Airpush, AdMob, etc.) that keep getting better at putting the right ads on the right screens. Once consumers wake up a bit and realize that targeted mobile ads are actually in their best interest, one of the biggest lingering impediments to this practice will be removed.

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