Should All Ad Impressions on Mobile Devices Really Count as ‘Mobile?’

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Every year seems to be the year of mobile. Well, it may just finally be here! Looking at all the trends, there is no doubt mobile is hot. My life is now almost entirely mobile — PC, laptop, iPad, phone, TV, music; all connected via Wifi most of the time.

But there’s a question that few people are asking in regards to mobile advertising: “Does an impression on my iPad connected to my home wifi really count as a ‘mobile impression?’ It may be a mobile device, but I am not mobile.”

A “mobile impression” is very different than an impression on a mobile device, and we simply cannot apply the term “mobile” to everything. A recent U.S. Wireless Market Update for 2011 found that 90% of all tablets use only Wifi. I have seen estimates that well over 50% web browsing on smartphones are also over Wifi. Research at Neustar shows that more than 75% of all mobile impressions are connected to Wifi.

To further confuse the mobile ecosystem, cookies don’t work. For the past decade the display advertising ecosystem has rallied around the cookie as the primary container for all marketing user data. Users hate them, many delete them and the government is increasingly cracking down on them due to user privacy issues. If your business model is predicated on information from cookies, then you are in serious jeopardy — but, more importantly, almost none of the cookie-based targeting in display applies to mobile devices. This leaves an ever-increasing blind spot for mobile marketers.

A lot of the mobile advertising talk centers around Location Based Services (LBS).  In May of 2011, the Pew Research Center found that only 5% of Americans use such services to share their location. LBS are useful for some functions, but the number of users is incredibly limited.  After it was recently revealed that some apps in Apple’s app store (and others) collect location data from phones, users are increasingly more cautious. LBS utilities on my phone are useful at times, but there simply isn’t enough scale to impact mobile advertising.

With all the confusion surrounding the mobile ecosystem marketers are increasingly turning to IP data and the main proxy for targeting across mobile devices. Neustar IP Intelligence (formerly Quova) has been building the science behind IP data for well over a decade. We can identify mobile gateways when users are truly mobile on a 3G/4G connection, but more importantly, Neustar can help marketers better target users on any mobile device when it is connected to Wifi.  Neustar’s data is derived from a user’s IP connection type, not personal behavioral data. This allows a safe and scalable way to target very interesting audiences like college students, small businesses, lawyers, doctors, travelers, et cetera.

For mobile advertising to reach its true potential the industry needs to start looking more closely at the nature of a mobile impression and applying more scalable and accurate ways to target users.  The current one-size-fits-all approach is simply not going to work as users are increasingly cutting the cord and relying entirely on their tablets or phones.

Mike Blacker is VP of advertising sales and business development for Neustar’s IP Intelligent online advertising solutions. He has over 15 years of experience in online advertising including ad sales, business development, software sales, behavioral targeting and hyperlocal solutions.