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They Might Be Giants

From Google to startups like Square, a look at seven would-be mobile titans


Jason Spero
Director, mobile sales and strategy
Google

Jason Spero doesn’t have it easy. As Google’s head of global mobile sales and strategy, he is tasked with getting brands on board with Google’s mobile products, despite plenty of investor scrutiny over whether the search giant can successfully monetize mobile.

“I get [the Wall Street question] on almost every call. What I say is, mobile does not have a value creation problem; it has an attribution problem,” Spero says. “The sooner we as an industry can understand how mobile drives different behaviors and work with marketers to harness and track behaviors, people will understand its value in three dimensions.”

While not altogether solved, Google did chip away at the problem last week when it enabled advertisers to set up their AdWords campaigns to better target ads based on a user’s location. Ads can be tweaked based on whether a person is using a smartphone at lunchtime near a restaurant or at home on a tablet looking for dinner delivery options.

That helps shift perceptions about mobile from that of a siloed channel to one of many interchangeable devices a consumer uses over the course of a given day. It’s also what Spero spent much of 2012 evangelizing, “seeing mobile as part of a larger hole, less as a device and more as context,” as he puts it. “Mobile advertising is how we pay the bills and how marketers reach consumers and engage consumers and have conversations, but the fascinating trend is connectivity everywhere.”

While that makes things more complicated, it also affords marketers many possibilities. Spero likes to use Hertz Rent-A-Car as a hypothetical. It makes perfect sense for Hertz to run mobile ads if it is able to target a consumer at the airport where he may be in need of a ride, he explains, and a mobile rich media or video ad could be even more valuable in that situation.

But using the tactic to reach someone at home working at his desktop computer would probably be a waste. “If you’ve got a rich-media experience but no intent and no context, then you’re putting the Hertz experience in front of people who don’t need a rental car,” Spero says.

If Google gets things right, then a brand like Hertz may well spend more with Google—and if Google connects the attribution side of things, advertisers will spend even more. Or so the thinking goes.
The company has already shown some proficiency in mobile advertising. During its third-quarter earnings call, CFO Patrick Pichette said Google’s mobile business was on an $8 billion revenue run rate, with mobile ads making up the “vast majority” of that. To grow that revenue stream, Spero and his team will need to excavate more ways for brands to effectively and efficiently advertise.

Says Spero: “My gig—and you’ll hear more about this in the coming months and weeks—is to try to deliver the right marketing levers to help our customers build for the insights they have about consumer behavior.” —T.P.

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