What does the Google behavioural targeting move mean for mobile advertising?

 In advertising

Recently, Google announced that they will start “behavioural targeting” for web searches.

From their announcement:

We think we can make online advertising even more relevant and useful by using additional information about the websites people visit. Today we are launching “interest-based” advertising as a beta test on our partner sites and on YouTube. These ads will associate categories of interest — say sports, gardening, cars, pets — with your browser, based on the types of sites you visit and the pages you view. We may then use those interest categories to show you more relevant text and display ads.

Many websites and blogs have reviewed this decision, but I thought I would look at this move from a mobile point of view.

The Financial Times editorial for Friday 13th March titled Google searches makes some important points – repeated below (emphasis is mine).

Much advertising is utter waste. Any advert that does not help people find things they want to buy amounts to money spent in vain by the advertiser and time lost (and sometimes mood soured) for the consumer. “Behaviourally targeted” advertising can therefore in theory be a great improvement: the advertiser gets more value for money, consumers avoid ads for things they have no interest in, and businesses that depend on advertising revenue, such as Google but also the media, gain a more solid economic footing.

Because mobile is a highly personal device, we need to raise the bar in terms of how, and what information we collect from mobile users, and go beyond what Google propose for their targeting service to ensure what is delivered to mobile users (via the mobile or another preferred channel) is relevant and personal to their needs and wants.

First, we must recognise how very different the mobile is from the web.  Thought leader Alan Moore makes the point in his excellent whitepaper titled “The glittering allure of the mobile society” that mobile has 6 unique benefits

1. Personal – my media
2. Always carried – the city in my pocket
3. Always on
4. Built in payment
5. Point of creative impulse
6. Recounting the audience – the holy grail of advertising

I actually don’t like the word advertising when used in the same sentence as mobile (ironic many will say). I’d rather think of it as information that is useful.  Herein lies the challenge – making the “advertising” sent appear as “information”.

The only real way you can do this on mobile is by actually asking the user what their preferences are, and what sort of advertising they would like to receive.  Google has chosen to assume people want to opt in to having data collected about their browsing preferences (because getting people to opt-in manually would probably never work), and they have also provided a way for people to manage their preferences.

I’m in favour of the Google approach for the web and I can’t wait to have them finally start to use my web search history to provide me relevant search results.

My Wife has for some time been saying that Google does not have any ads – because for Google searches she perceives the search results as information and not advertising (and she’s right).  Having display ads now appear more relevant is the natural next step for Google, and I look forward with interest to see how this works in practice.

In the Google announcement they talk about making ads more “interesting”.  What about more relevant?  I can see an “interesting” ad, but if I have no interest in the product or service, as outlined in the FT editorial above – it becomes waste.  Relevant ads, based on my own profile (that I create and maintain) will ensure that the ads I see on my mobile are absolutely what I am interested in – moving me from purchase intent to an actual purchase.  As David Ogilvy said, “sell…or else”.

We cannot afford on mobile to assume that everyone will want to opt-in to have all their web browsing habits collected, and then ads served up against this.  Instead,  a new approach based on the 3 P’s of mobile advertising – privacy, preference and permission needs to be developed and adopted so mobile users have complete control over what they see (if anything) , and can also derive a direct benefit from the information they are receiving (discount, free trial, test drive, product information etc).

Thinking about it some more, the Google approach of allowing users to select what type of advertising they want to receive will actually help the mobile advertising case.  The Google privacy blog post provides a link for consumers to access the Ads Preferences Manager – a screenshot of the preferences I have just set up is below.


Users that select the ad types they want to receive that DO start to see more relevant display advertising as part of the Google beta program will start to tell others that this actually works.  They in turn will tell others – who will opt-in and do the same. Advertisers will (hopefully) start to see a lift in sales as a correlation between the ability to select preferences, and hence the increase in ad relevancy. 

They may see a drop in reach, as the spill from unwanted ads will decrease – but the relevancy is where the value is – in fact I believe that for mobile AND for the web, relevance is the new reach.

Those of us in mobile advertising can then use this as a case study on how relevance is where the value lies and encourage brands and agencies to spend more on mobile advertising that is opt-in and targeted.  So the Google approach will actually help the mobile advertising case.

I’ll be watching this space closely – and also the display ads I start to see – hoping they will be more relevant.  Why not also set up your Google ad preferences and see if the ads you start receiving are more relevant.


Based in London, The Actionable Futurist and former Global Managing Partner at IBM, Andrew Grill is a popular and sought-after presenter and comementator on issues around digital disruption, workplace of the future and new technologies such as blockchain. Andrew is a multiple TEDx and International Keynote Speaker.