ironSource’s Cunningham: You Need Every Data Set at Your Disposal to Compete with Facebook and Google

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This week, app discovery platform ironSource announced a merger with another ad-tech company, Supersonic. The joining of these two forces in mobile advertising is indicative of the rapid reshaping of the industry landscape in response to new technologies and shifts in consumer behavior.

Street Fight caught up with ironSource’s head of mobile and global brand partnerships, Chris Cunningham, to talk about the changes he’s seen in his 16 years in ad-tech, how location influences ironSource’s services, and whether or not Facebook and Google will ever see legitimate competition.

Cunningham will join us as a speaker at the Street Fight Summit in New York on October 20th. Click here for more info and to buy tickets.

Regarding your merger with Supersonic, what do you think are the implications for the consolidation that’s happening within the ad-tech space?
In today’s ecosystem, there’s no fooling around anymore. You have some serious players taking 80 or 90 percent of the share, and the only way that you’re ever going to compete is with scale, targeting, a large user base, and product capabilities that can command real budgets. This merger is smart and strategic, given the fact that we both have very strong cores. Combined, this makes us formidable.

ironSource’s Chris Cunningham

As someone who’s seen firsthand the evolution of ad-tech, how has increasingly sophisticated technology, location technology in particular, changed the space in recent years?
When I started my first company, Appssavvy, in ’08, it was very much [about] simple ad serving capabilities. Today, the level of business intelligence, the ability to target and understand data, the sophistication that allows ad buys to be automated is much greater. In a very small window, we went from dollars flowing into the space in a way that was geared toward spending to a massive evolution in scale and targeting because the opportunity was there.

[ironSource] comes from the desktop space, so we have a strong foundation there, and we have a strong foundation in mobile web. We already had a top-five mobile business, and now [the merger with] Supersonic reinforces that. The proliferation of beacons, the ability to profile users based on apps they’ve installed – it just gives us another layer of visibility and targeting that advertisers are looking for.

Another way I view this is, it’s Facebook, Google, and everybody else. What makes Facebook and Google interesting, what makes them unique, is the fact they know who the user is inherently, and that gives them profound targeting capabilities. Everyone else is building profiles and packaging stories. So in order to compete for the hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue, you need every data set available at your disposal to compete with these two major players. It’s not about any specific data set; it’s about all of them combined.

For example, the cookie used to be very interesting as a standalone, but today the cookie is no longer interesting as a standalone. You have to have time and context. Combine those things, combine location, and have as many data points as possible to help you. We have so many touchpoints for multiple screens that adding location gives us better capabilities for the clients we work with.

There’s been a lot of discussion around deep linking as it relates to apps and mobile search. How do you think deep linking will influence discovery and development?
I think it’s great for the industry. The first thing we should always ask is what’s good for the user? Whoever understands the user experience and what’s good for the consumer will end up on top. Deep linking is just another measure of understanding usage and behavior and patterns. As long as an individual consumer gets some level of recommendation or targeting that’s useful or provides value or some level of utility, then it’s great and I’m all for it.

I think people are generally smart enough to understand that 99 percent of the content and experience they have on a daily basis is free, and with that comes the catch of monetization for the companies that provide the content. I doubt most people would dispute that you give data up, and there’s some level of risk.

Here’s an example: I’m going into fantasy football season, and every time I go to CBS Sports I get fast food ads and things that are always the same and completely not relevant. If I started to get ads based on the fact that I’m running out of storage on my phone, and I get a recommendation for Dropbox – real, valuable insights based on my usage – that’s what the experience should look like. Deep linking and the exposure of data should come in return with better ads and messaging.

Discovery is very much enmeshed in social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Will this continue to be the case going forward, or is there a next wave that brands and app developers should prepare for?
I think you’re going to start seeing alliances and partnerships from unusual suspects combining their unique value propositions to improve app discovery for consumers. Think about a world where telecoms partner with software companies, where carriers and Silicon Valley startups unite. Facebook and Google have a full sweep of everything, but the reality is there are a lot of individual companies that have incredible technology.

Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.