Jeff Liang Has A Sense Where Targeting Is Going Next: Sensors

Speaking during a keynote conversation with Real-Time Daily Editor Tobi Elkin Tuesday morning at the Programmatic Insider Summit in Lake Tahoe, Assembly Chief Digital Officer Jeff Liang said the big breakthrough in targeting -- and he means all targeting, not just programmatically -- will be in unlocking the data being collected via a multitude of electronic sensors embedded in mobile devices.

Liang estimated there are probably “six to 10” sensors -- but possibly more -- that can give brands unparalleled insights about the consumers they are trying to reach, as well as an ability to to give them better experiences when they are reached. It’s all about the sensors, and the data they generate.

Although he did not rattle all of them off, they include obvious ones like accelerometers and gyroscopes as well as GPS, but there is an even wider range of data being sensed by mobile devices including touch, light, and even the user’s heart rates -- and in some cases, their fingerprints and facial images.

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Liang did not imply that all of this data should go into the hands of agencies and brands, but the data is essentially “sensing the world around” the consumer and will create more efficient and effective advertising experiences once brands figure out how to access and use it.

“We haven’t even been able to tap into this data,” he acknowledged.

Asked by Elkin whether he had any good examples of how such data could benefit the user and create a media experience they would not otherwise have without it, Liang did cite a significant recent application by a well-loved brand: Pokemon -- specifically, the Pokemon Go augmented reality gaming application developed by Niantic Labs.

Liang said one reason Niantic was able to gain access to key data enabling developers to create experiences based on how individual users were looking at the world around them was because of a cozy relationship it has with Google.

“Niantic is funded by Google’s investment arm,” he noted, adding: “In that partnership, Google is probably the first to give the access to Google map data. That’s what makes it so critical and powerful.” Liang said it's likely that Google did that mainly to enable a better user experience by making the Pokemon Go game personally relevant to users' proximity and physical surroundings.

“I think the data is actually what’s powering the game,” he said, adding: “I think that trend will continue and you will see more and more data enhancing what people see.”

He alluded to other, even higher-level and far more personal data being collected by mobile devices -- including “health tracking” apps that monitor people’s heart rates, caloric intake and output and even their sleeping patterns -- as potential sources of data that could enhance consumer experiences with brands.

The No. 1 drawback, he said, not surprisingly: “Privacy issues.”

In other words, you don’t need a sixth sense to know how regulators and consumer advocacy groups would react to brands unlocking that sort of data, at least not with an explicit consumer opt-in.
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