Location, location, location – how accurate are geo-targeted mobile ads? INTERVIEW with 4INFO’s Tim Jenkins


Location data is all the rage right now.

Mobile advertisers have been keen to utilise geo-data to improve audience insights and drive better campaign results. Indeed, as mobile consumers are becoming more demanding, location data has the power to foster personal and in-the-moment engagement. But how accurate is location targeting really?

We’ve spoken to Tim Jenkins, CEO of ad tech firm 4INFO, about key location failures and why it’s important that marketers do not blindly trust the hype.


1. Mobile location-based advertising is a growing trend. What are 4INFO’s findings on the matter?

Yes, mobile location-based advertising is definitely growing. But we caution marketers to use location in its proper place. Except in very specific use cases, location shouldn’t be used to target, as the accuracy of the delivery is limited and measurement of the results is impossible. Instead, many platforms have succeeded in linking mobile devices to a key that enables them to tie a device to a person’s information – such as demographic, frequent shopper, credit card and first-party purchase data – in a privacy-friendly way so that marketers can target using trusted data instead of guessing who someone might be based on a history of where their device has gone. Then brands can really create value by using location to make their ads contextually relevant. For example, showing a video when someone is at home on their iPad vs. providing locator or coupons when they are near a store. The key is reaching the right person no matter where they are, and using their location to customize the creative to make the ad as relevant as possible.

2. According to research from the Location Based Marketing Association, 65% of marketers believe mobile location data to be inaccurate. You’ve mentioned that such information may be misguided?

This is definitely a “baby with the bathwater” situation. Yes, the location data that comes through ad requests can be inaccurate. Potentially more than half of ad requests include bad location data. But many ad requests include accurate location data. And given that we see more than 10 billion ad requests per day on our servers, that’s still billions and billions of ad requests providing good location data daily. Just make sure the platform you work with has the right safeguards in place to identify bad location data so they can ignore those ad requests, but use the billions of ad requests containing perfectly good location data.

3. What are the benefits of utilising location data? 

Again, we see the value of location data as being primarily for the purpose of customizing the message for maximum relevance based on the context of the user at the moment the ad is served. In the same way no one buys radio ads only when the person is driving by a particular store, advertisers need to reach consumers at all times to deliver effective reach and frequency to drive desired purchase behavior. We’ve had great success with advertisers defining a target audience based on actual past purchase data, and then delivering the right ad – for example, promoting specific price promotions for key items on sales at the closest store when the recipient is within a mile of that store. That’s not an obnoxious ad – that’s useful info the can result in an increase in purchases for the advertiser. We’ve worked with Nielsen Catalina Solutions to do hundreds of campaign studies that bear this out.

4. Are there any major challenges when employing location-based data services?

Beyond the issues of data accuracy we’ve talked about, it’s really about helping to educate advertisers, especially those new to mobile. There’s this perception that because the mobile phone goes everywhere – including when the customer is at the point of purchase in a brick and mortar store – that mobile is ALL about location. Whether that’s location targeting (creating audiences based on a device’s location history) or proximity targeting (geo-fencing around a store and only serving ads to people by the store), that’s still not THE most important factor in accurate mobile targeting. After all, serving an ad for dog food to a cat owner just because the device is outside a pet food store is still a wasted impression.

5. What does the future hold for location-based mobile marketing?

I believe that as marketers learn and become more sophisticated, they’ll find even more ways they can use location to make their ads more relevant. Whether that’s tying location-specific data, such as weather, or increasingly sophisticated retargeting by modifying the creative on subsequent visits to the same store, I can’t wait to see what we come up with in the next couple of years.