What You Think You Know about Local-Mobile Advertising May Be Completely Wrong

I keep reading very aggressive projections about local-mobile advertising from BIA and others. Rather than grounded in reality today, these forecasts are built on a set of "optimistic" but simple assumptions about how the market will inevitably develop. For example, one assumption is that national ad dollars from brands and retailers that sell locally will pour into mobile and that their mobile ads will necessarily be geotargeted or localized.

While all forecasts must make assumptions about the future, my belief is that many of the assumptions being made about mobile are crude at best or simply incorrect. I'm a big proponent of location-based marketing and have written extensively about how geotargeted ads and ads with localized creative outperform conventional or "generic" national advertising. There's no question about consumer demand for local information. The question is whether and how advertisers can match or exploit that demand.

There remains a great deal of friction and many challenges to overcome before these big local-mobile forecasts can come true. There are also several "unexpected" things that may change the direction of the marketplace. I go into a few of those things below. In truth the majority of the localized mobile advertising today is happening in search. The platform is mature, the demand and the tools are there. The value is obvious to all involved. That's why Google is making the most money in mobile advertising today. (Facebook is also going to make a lot of money in mobile, some of which will be localized.) By contrast, local-mobile display is in its infancy.

There are two mobile ad networks generating and syndicating a large percentage of the local display inventory that you're likely to encounter: xAd and YP. CityGrid is out there and so are Verve, LSN, Telenav/ThinkNear and a couple of others. Marchex is there too with pay-per-call; however much of that is driving mobile callers to national call centers. Among the major ad networks Millennial, JumpTap and AdMob (Google) all offer local targeting. Often that targeting doesn't extend beyond state or DMA-level precision.

The emerging exchanges and RTB platforms all offer location as part of a laundry list of targeting capabilities. Indeed, location is likely to simply become one of many targeting variables on most networks and exchanges.