Consumers have accepted advertising online, but targeted mobile ads? Not so much

Mobile advertising has up to now relied upon massive campaigns with poor results. There is a belief you cannot intelligently advertise on mobile, but now more than ever, this is simply untrue.

Last month eMarketer revealed it is expecting the global smartphone audience to surpass 1.75 billion in 2014. It also stated that 4.55 billion people are predicted to use a mobile phone in 2014, thanks to increased availability in the developing regions of Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

Tell these stats to an advertiser responsible for mobile advertising and watch their faces light up. A platform is now available that brings a potential audience of billions of users – more than Facebook and Twitter combined – and it’s growing. The opportunity to reach such massive audiences is gold dust to the advertising industry.

They are looking to take advantage too. Gartner revealed that global mobile ad spending is forecast to reach $18.0 billion in 2014, up from the estimated $13.1 billion in 2013. It also expects the market to grow to $41.9 billion by 2017.

It is undoubtedly a booming market. Yet there is a real problem.

In the past five years, online advertising has become incredibly intelligent. We are now at the stage where ads can be served based on what consumers are sharing and talking about. Sharing has become something of a phenomenon and can come in all forms, whether it be a tweet, a shortened URL, even an email telling someone to look at a link. Advertisers are increasingly able to build profiles of people, based on their interests and what they are sharing across the Open Web, and serving relevant ads accordingly at to scale. Consumers have reacted well. They understand that they are going to be served ads online these days – it’s what makes the internet tick – so they may as well be useful.

However, the same can’t be said for mobile devices. There is a distinct lack of “intelligent advertising” on this platform, and when you consider Gartner’s figures and projections, it is a costly miss. Without doubt, an archaic approach to advertising still exists. By that, I mean that advertisers have reverted to the “clusterbomb” approach of advertising – no analysis or resesarch of whether the user is interested in your brand and may be likely to click through, research and even invest, but rather putting out as many ads as possible in the hope that some people will bite. It’s an incredibly expensive way of getting your message out there. And if anything, it can be detrimental – consumers, who expect relevant marketing messages, are likely to be irritated by intrusive, non-relevant ads, especially as they are increasingly seeing marketing messages tailored to their interests. It reeks of the early days of online advertising, where you received ads for something you had no interest in whatsoever.

Let me give you an example. Last year, I got pretty hooked on an app called Stick Tennis. A very simple game, but highly addictive. In between each set, I would be served an ad. On numerous occasions, I was served an ad for Wonga. I wouldn’t dream of using a service like Wonga. Not in a million years. Frustration aside, it did make me realise two things. Firstly, brands are frittering away significant and precious budgets on advertising that is going to provide a minimal return. Put bluntly, it’s a complete waste. Secondly, there seems to be a level of thought that you can’t replicate the level of targeting on mobile that you can on desktop. But that is simply not true.

There are so many opportunities for advertisers and agencies alike to reach the huge number of mobile users, especially through apps. This is another economy which is continuing to grow and grow. Last year, APPNATION forecasted that revenue from apps is to continue to expand over the next four years and that, by 2017, the market will be worth over $150 billion – more than twice what it was worth in 2012. This naturally implies more apps being created and crucially, more consumer use.

Apps can be a hugely powerful communications tool and can help marketers get to know their potential audiences even better. This then brings considerably more opportunity to serve them more targeted messages, which results in more click-throughs and, ultimately, more sales. For example, use of a football app may drop off between seasons – leading to missed advertising and marketing opportunities within the app.

However, we are at the stage where brands can implement appropriate in-app tracking. This enables them to understand how users behave and therefore intelligently segment an audience, identify supported teams and so on. Relevant and bespoke news alerts and messages can then be driven through push notifications to engaged users. This, in turn, exposes them to mobile advertising while simultaneously providing a better user experience and hence more opportunities to up-sell. And, as consumers’ behaviour and reactions to mobile advertising can be tracked, it brings the opportunity to set up personalised ads in the future in order to re-engage them further down the line, thus keeping the cycle turning.

This methodology can naturally be applied across every sector, not just football. The opportunity for advertisers to take advantage of mobile is therefore enormous, as the technology now exists to serve relevant ads at the right time and at scale, making the process of just blasting out ads and hoping for the best a thing of the past. Those that add this layer of intelligence to their mobile strategies now are going to be the ones that stop the slew of wastage and truly reap the benefits.

Rupert Staines is European MD of RadiumOne

The global smartphone audience is expected to surpass 1.75 billion in 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

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7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.