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GUEST COMMENT Sensing a shopper’s needs – the future of mobile ads

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The global population is estimated at around 7 billion people. With over 6 billion mobile subscriptions now active across the world it’s clear to see that the smartphone has enjoyed a meteoric rise. This has also meant a coming of age for mobile advertising in recent years, with Gartner estimating that global spend on mobile ads was over $13bn last year, projecting a further rise to almost $42bn by 2017. The importance of ads on mobile was also pointed to by research from eMarketer that expects them to amount to nearly 25% of the total ad spend this year.

However, mobile has a major advantage – and opportunity – compared to traditional internet advertising, which relies on just two groups of factors to deliver its ads: contextual relevance (content currently being viewed, time of day, offline ad campaigns, etc) and purchase intent (previous interest in a product, previous purchases or searches, products bought by others with a similar behavioural profile). Mobile offers retailers the ability to extend this contextual relevance much further, by incorporating a host of information available through the user’s device.

Which device? Exactly which one?

The precise details of a user’s mobile device can tell an advertiser a great deal about its user, from the most simplistic ad for apps or content specifically for your phone, to more sophisticated campaigns based on specific device models and propensity to perform certain actions. Even on a broader level, looking at the more general device type can be a strong indicator in deciding the most appropriate ad to serve to a consumer. For example, a person using a tablet is more likely to be in a sedentary context, whereas a person using a smartphone could be in just about any situation. A smartphone user is less likely to follow-through on the purchase of an item where visualising or inspecting the product is an important factor in their choice – this transaction is more likely to conclude successfully on a desktop or tablet.

Knowing the details of the device in the consumer’s hand can also tell the advertiser some of the most important information they need to serve great content: screen dimensions (ensuring that ads are sized appropriately for each device), device operating system (ensuring relevant links to the web or app stores are correct), HTML5 support (used to determine the richness of experience that should be served to a given device) and network protocols supported (if a device only supports GPRS it should be served an experience that works well at lower speeds).

Going beyond the device

The modern smartphone and many tablets also offer advertisers one of advertising’s holy grails by actually telling them exactly where in the world their customer is. This allows location-specific targeting to open up a whole new range of possibilities and the possibility of hyper-local targeting, such as advertising to people within a city block or short drive of a certain store. But possibly most exciting is the host of new sensors that are included in the latest mobile devices and the opportunity these offer.

For example, most smartphones now include an accelerometer and compass as standard, as well as a host of other sensors being added (like the heart beat monitor in the Samsung Galaxy S5). These sensors could alert a retailer to know precisely which way a device is pointing and its orientation; the latter can be used to infer information about the physical context. To explain, if the device is perfectly horizontal it’s probably sitting on a table, which means the user is not out and about; if the device is tilted to 120 degrees from horizontal the user is probably browsing while reclining. The accelerometers can also be used to determine if the user is on the move or not.

As mobile devices increasingly embed themselves into our everyday lives, the importance of this deeper device information will also increase. All indications are that the exploding device diversity that we have witnessed over the past decade or so is set to continue, if not accelerate. Those retailers that are able to distinguish themselves by using this insight to truly sense their customers’ needs, and use that contextual information to engage them successfully, will have a competitive edge when advertising on the mobile channel.

Ronan Cremin is CTO at dotMobi

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