Location isn’t everything: How brands are succeeding – and failing – with location-based native ads

Who, what, when, where, why.

Ignoring the context can diminish mobile ad experiences

Early on in the genesis of mobile native advertising, the ‘where’ part of things caused a lot of excitement. The vision was, ‘We’ll use GPS, or beacons, or Wi-Fi and our app will know that you’re walking by and push an ad to you for this shop.’ But that thinking misinterprets the happenstance of location with the circumstance of context. It hasn’t come true because success in native advertising isn’t just about finding us; it’s about finding us in the right moment and in the right frame of mind.

As users, our smartphones are always with us, and our personal information is on there, so our expectations of the ads and content we get from them throughout our daily journey is very high. The informal contract between publishers, advertisers and users is that we’ll trust you with our data if you serve us well with the information you get from it. Otherwise, why would I let you monetize me for the same old stuff?

For mobile users, true context is defined in usefulness, not just what’s useful for me in the app, but me in my 3-dimensional circumstances. That requires mapping much more than just where I am. To do native right, advertisers also need to consider the mobile users’ who, what, when and why.

Here’s a few examples of some techniques and brands that I think are succeeding, or failing, in their early efforts to engage mobile users with native ads that rely on different types of mapping data.

Location mapping

Walgreens, the giant US drug retailer that owns UK brand Boots, has done some interesting things in modifying their app based on where you are. For example, if you’re walking around on the street and look at their app, the first thing the app shows you is a store locator. But if you’re actually in a Walgreens store, you don’t need that anymore, so the app shows you different things, like a reminder to pick up a prescription. This is interesting because not only is Walgreens showing the technical IQ to switch between two different types of location-based techs (GPS and beacons), they’re also using that data to dynamically adapt my experience with their app based on my different circumstances. That’s pretty native-forward thinking on their part.

Of course, once I’m in a bricks and mortar retail environment, it’s unlikely the retailer is going to catch me in that moment via their own app. I may be looking at my mobile as I wander the aisles, but odds are I’m using it to do something utilitarian, not to play Candy Crush. For example, when I go to the grocery store, I usually find myself using Facebook Messenger to shoot notes back and forth with my kids, or husband. A brand that really wants to get my attention in this context could use a combination of data to seamlessly place their brand and their logo right there in the messenger app, just as I’m trying to accomplish this very utilitarian task of grocery shopping.

So, there’s an example of contextual native advertising that could be done really well. Unfortunately, there’s a number of brands that still seem to be stuck in the ‘You’re here, we’re near, so buy from us,’ mode of mobile advertising.

I am a heavy user of Waze, a great little app that uses the crowd to calculate a faster way for me to get from Point A to Point B. I love the app for the convenience and the time it saves me when I’m trying to get home at night to see my kids, but I absolutely abhor the advertising. I’ll be driving home, and the app will tell me ‘You are 23 miles away from home and Route A is the fastest at 27 minutes,’ which is great because that’s useful information in my circumstances. But then this ad pops up that says ‘By the way, if you want a free Frappuccino at Starbucks there’s a location just off the road about five minutes away.’

What the hell Waze? Why would I want that? I just told you that I’m in a hurry to get home - that’s the whole reason that I’m using your app. There is no coupon in the world that has a value high enough to suddenly make me think, ‘Sure. Let me add another 10 minutes to my drive to get $1 off a coffee at a place I never go to anyway.’ This type of poorly conceived mobile advertising drives me crazy because it ignores the context of my circumstances and diminishes my experience with what I see as the useful utility of the app.

Journey mapping

I think the reason these sorts of mobile ad misfires happen is the lingering tendency for advertisers to fish in oceans of big data. That’s ultimately a losing strategy because, when it comes to creating great native experiences, less data equals more opportunity. The real challenge is to turn mobile signals into marketing insights.

Don’t just know that I’m a working mom; understand how I live my life in the moment, and what I’m in the market for. By ignoring the white noise of ‘lots of data’ and zeroing-in on our unique mobile data signals – when, why and how we use apps – smart advertisers can infer a great deal. It all comes back to understanding why people use their apps to begin with, what they’re trying to achieve, and how an ad may be perceived as either complementing, or getting in the way of that objective.

To be successful at mobile native, an advertiser can’t just expect to go out, buy a third party data set, and slice and dice their way to success. First party mobile data signals is a critical part of the equation. Before you ever begin segmenting target audiences, you need to sort out which of those mobile signals are key in advancing a purchasing decision from the user. Once the advertiser has done that, they’ll need to craft an in-context experience from just those data points that will truly make an impact on the user. So, if you don’t know that I’m in the market for a Frappuccino right now, don’t make the assumption that I am just because you think I fit into some sort of bucket. It’s a waste of your money and, more importantly for your brand, a waste of my time.

Good native advertising relies on all sorts of data to be effective, but the best native experiences actually come from concentrating on less data, to create great experiences that offer more personal context, for fewer targets. It’s not just about leveraging location data, but in understanding user journeys and the practical context of daily experience. Advertisers that want to earn commercial opportunity in our apps and in our lives, will find ways to use location and other mobile signals to help us reach our desired destinations, not get in the way.

Aurelie Guerrieri is vice-president of global marketing solutions at Cheetah Ad Platform


Aurelie Guerrieri

All by Aurelie