Show de Cologne

Dmexco Mlaw

The Dmexco (Digital Marketing Exposition and Conference) show in Cologne is now in its sixth year. While not on the same staggering scale as Mobile World Congress (MWC) it’s no Village Fete either, with over 800 exhibitors in three halls, almost 500 speakers, and more than 30,000 trade visitors forecast to attend the two-day event, which took place last week. (The organisers are not saying how many actually did attend as yet.)

Yet while it’s smaller than MWC, its remit is bigger, taking in the whole of the digital marketing ecosystem, and it was notable on my visit that the media agencies who attend MWC as delegates, feature on the show floor as exhibitors at Dmexco.

Silver bullet
I took the opportunity while at the show to catch up with three companies who, to a greater or lesser extent, are attempting to reinvent mobile advertising. First was Drawbridge, which aims to provide brands and agencies with the silver bullet – the ability to identify the same user across multiple devices, without using personally-identifiable information. It uses statistical methods that rely on anonymous data to track people as they move between their smartphones, tablets and PCs, identifying the same user across their various connected devices, with an 85 per cent degree of confidence, by viewing user activity through ad requests. Drawbridge’s ‘Connected Consumer Graph’ currently includes 1.1bn consumers across 2.6bn devices.

The company was founded in 2011 by Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, former lead scientist at AdMob, and launched the year after. At Dmexco, Sivaramakrishnan explained where the idea for the company came from. “When AdMob launched, there was not much targeting of the individual, it was all about targeting the device, because there was no way to identify the user,” she said. “AdMob rode the tide, just providing the ability to reach users in an aggregation medium, but companies like AdMob left a lot unaddressed.”

The problem for advertisers, says Sivaramakrishnan, is that no one, apart from Facebook and Google, can tie the identity to a single user. Even on one device, she notes, the browser and apps are two different worlds. (Despite the fact that Twitter also requires a login, Sivaramakrishnan does not include the company alongside Facebook and Google, as they have nothing like the same reach.) What Drawbridge is trying to do, she claims, is to democratise the problem of identity to give app developers some degree of ownership of the user ID tech.

So how does the company do it? “Any time a consumer is on mobile, tablet or desktop, some content will be ad supported,” Sivaramakrishnan explained. “The exchanges are fast becoming the only viable medium by which ads are traded. We have seats on all these exchanges and we triangulate the requests. We process 30 – 35bn daily ad requests, and we have a lookback window of 30-60 days to understand the behaviour of users through their ad requests. This enables us to infer the identity of the consumer with an 85 per cent degree of confidence and without fingerprinting.”

For the first two and a half years of Drawbridge’s existence, the company operated a managed service model, using its platform and identity data to fully execute campaigns on behalf of advertisers and agencies, with inventory sold on a CPM, CPC or CPA basis.

“Our first incarnation looked pretty much like an ad network. We built the whole stack to show the value of cross-device identity, data, programmatic buying and cross device analytics,” said Sivaramakrishnan.

At the start of 2014, Drawbridge launched a self-service version of its platform, enabling brands and agencies to licence the technology and run their own campaigns on the Drawbridge platform, with the fee based on a percentage of the media spend deployed on the Drawbridge platform.

A third model is also in the pipeline, where Drawbridge works with its partners to power the identity tech on the partners’ own trading platform. This will be charged based on a CPM/usage basis, depending on the number of messages delivered to consumers using Drawbridge’s tech. This model is currently in trials with key partners.

“We provide the insights, but the middle layer of programmatic buying and trading is done on the buyer’s existing platform,” Sivaramakrishnan explained. “They take our identity data, put it on an existing DSP and execute it on that, using us to discern the insights. In essence we are democratizing the use of our identity data and cross-device insights across the entire demand side of the ad tech ecosystem.”

Going forward, she told me the plan is to focus on the second and third models, while continuing to support the original model, and to begin to address new devices such as Smart TVs. “A Smart TV is an addressable device that behaves no different to any other device, as long as there is a persistent anonymous identifier, some sort of information that gets passed in an ad request, so that is in our plans.”

Kiip on running
Next up, Kiip, which enables brands to reward consumers with rewards in-app at appropriate moments. The company’s youthful founder and CEO, Brian Wong, told me that Kiip is now in 3,000 apps across six verticals – Fitness, Food, Music, Productivity, Sport and Finance. The Kiip platform touches around 80m devices per month globally, in 22 countries, as Wong and his team have made efforts to get local advertisers on board in Latin America, Europe and Asia. “Finding local budgets is key” he explained. Advertisers using the platform include Kraft, Capital One, McDonalds, Pepsi, Unilever, P&G and Verizon.

It’s most recent signup is fitness-tracking app, RunKeeper. Previously ad-free, the RunKeeper app now uses Kiip to congratulate and reward its 34m users on their fitness achievements. Rewards include free product samples from Propel Fitness Water and Quaker Oats, as well as free song downloads sponsored by brands. Earlier this year, Kiip also announced a tie-up with in-car app company Mojio, putting Kiip’s tech in Mojio’s apps to reward drivers for in-car moments, whatever they might be. Wearables and the connected home are next on Kiip’s hit list, Wong said, together with a web SDK which will enable brands to use the Kiip rewards platform on the mobile web as well as in-app.

Wong says the fact that the Kiip rewards appear in apps the user uses regularly helps with perception of the ads, and, consequently, response rates. “We rewarded almost 30m Americans in the past year and because they have seen it once, they know it is approved and legitimate and trusted,” he told me. “Once people experience a Kiip reward in the app they have an understanding of what it means in the context of the app. We have maintained our average engagement rate of around 10 per cent, which to me is a great indicator that consumers are responding consistently, as a result of the work we put in to make our rewards as relevant as they can be.”

Qriously different
Finally, I caught up with Gerald Mueller, chief product officer at Qriously, whose take on mobile advertising is to encourage consumers to express an interest in a type of product in order to self-select themselves for ads in that category. The company calls it Opinion Targeting. For example, an app user might see a banner ad (from a company making hybrid cars, through they don’t know that) asking if their next car will be a petrol or a hybrid. Those who select ‘hybrid’ will then be retargeted programmatically via brand-safe apps.

Mueller told me that the company has grown steadily over the past 12 months. “We now have offices in London, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles, and we’ve also recently hired staff in France, as we see this as a great market to tap into within the mobile and programmatic space,” said Mueller. “On the advertiser front, we’re working with some prestigious brands, including P&G, eBay, Lexus, B&Q, Tesco, SingTel & Unilever.”

Mueller also told me that the research angle of the firm’s offering – the answers to the in-app ads can be used to garner instant consumer sentiment on anything a brand cares to ask – is being downplayed going forward. “The digital ecosystem is so fragmented and complicated that we wanted to ensure that we had an easy to understand proposition,” Mueller explained. “We still lend our data to publications – we recently ran a Sentiment Index with CoinDesk on public opinion on BitCoin for example – but going forward, we are positioning ourselves primarily as an ad-tech business.”