It’s not just privacy concerns preventing mobile advertising from taking off
The Media often write about how location can be easily combined with other demographic and customer specific information to provide a more targeted proposition for advertisers. If only the location part was so easy then it would have been implemented by now. The fact that location services have not taken off in a big way yet points to the fact that to provide a location element to mobile advertising is actually quite difficult.
The AP article talks about how GPS can be used to provide location information, and in a simplistic sense this is true. When we look behind the real issues facing absolute location via GPS, then the real barriers to mass market adoption of GPS for mobile marketing become evident. This is one of the reasons behind Google’s decision to develop their My Location product that works without GPS.
GPS is a 30 year old technology developed by the US military, and over the last few years has begun to find its way into mobile phones. There is a danger though that GPS in mobile phones will become a very niche play if other non-GPS technologies are able to achieve the same outcome, meaning that GPS is only used in personal navigation devices such as the Tom Tom. Handset makers may shy away from deploying GPS in all mobiles if it is not required for mass market applications such as mobile advertising.
Absolute location solutions such as GPS that provide an exact X,Y location are less attractive for push applications such as mobile advertising as it requires the network to constantly poll the handset to determine where it is and if it has changed location. This is inefficient and can be extremely costly. For a location enabled mobile advertising campaign, if the network had to constantly poll thousands of phones to determine where they are and when (and if) they move into a relevant area, the costs of the campaign would be prohibitive.
What is required is a solution that reduces the load on the network and the cost of delivering location-based applications by providing a notification only when someone moves inside or outside of a relevant area. The notification can then serve an advertisement relevant not only to the subscriber’s location, but based on other factors as mentioned in the AP article such as calling patterns, age and spending habits provided by the mobile operator.
One recent and innovative approach to the location challenge for mobile advertising is zone detection. Zone detection recognises the radio environment at a particular location and then works out if the measurements being made by the mobile phone are consistent with being at that location – all without the need for GPS. It is much like the example of identifying that the customer is at the ticket office of the London Eye, without having to ask them where they are (or if they are in London at all).
In this case the handset is being asked what it can “see” in terms of the radio environment and decides if it can recognise the “landmarks” corresponding to that zone. In a human sense, we are looking to see if we can see the London Eye, and the ticket office – a good indication that we are at the right spot. Therefore a binary decision is made as to whether the user is inside or outside the specified zone, and a targeted message or advertisement can be sent if and only if they are in the zone – much in the same way that Google AdWords only charges the advertiser when the ad is actually clicked. This scenario is what advertisers have wanted all along, but has been too costly and complex to deliver until now.
The best zone detection implementations are those where the intelligence sits on mobile handset, for example on the SIM card, as opposed to in the network. In this case, the handset monitors the environment and only sends a notification to an ad server when there is a change in zone status. This reduces the load on the network and provides a cost effective solution that works with most existing handsets.
Zone detection is the ultimate solution for location-enhanced mobile marketing. Marketers can create “Movie Zones”, “Mall Zones” and other relevant marketing zones, where end-users receive special notifications and offers when they are inside the zone. Advertising minds will boggle at the thought of the enhanced experience that zone detection can also bring to social networking with sites such as Facebook and MySpace. The possibilities are endless, and now thankfully don’t rely on GPS phones.
Zone detection brings relevance to location and enables profitable location-enhanced mobile applications. While zone detection has been a possibility for some time, it was not previously realised due to the complexity involved in overcoming existing location technology challenges.
Now that the appropriate location solutions are emerging, it will take some time to get this built into existing ad serving engines, but we should see real examples of this in 2008, and perhaps even some live campaigns.
If you enjoyed this article, read a follow-up on MSearchGroove where I have a guest post on Zone Detection Poised To Drive New Location-Based Mobile Advertising Services