These Mobile Innovators Are Shaping the Future of Advertising

15 cutting-edge leaders in brand marketing, agencies and tech

Headshot of Christopher Heine

The mobile marketing landscape has grown more heavily populated with important players, many of whom quietly operate behind the scenes while some of their more brand-centric industry peers enjoy a greater share of the limelight. Adweek beat the bushes in search of the best and brightest minds behind great mobile campaigns that are transforming the marketing world. They are:

Cameron Clayton
CEO and GM, The Weather Co., an IBM Business
Age: 40
Fast fact: 1 billion weekly mobile views

Few mobile players are doing more than Cameron Clayton to send relevant offers to smartphone users as they drive down the street and mosey along the sidewalk. Clayton and his team employ proprietary, data-rich systems WeatherFX and JourneyFX to help marketers like Toyota, Anheuser-Busch (Goose Island brand) and State Farm find consumers when and where they need products and services based on 20 different weather variables and the places they visit. Weather’s digital users typically check their local forecast two to five times a day, while 80 percent opt in to share their location. So if there’s a blizzard coming and a new homeowner just left his or her local Home Depot …

The technology “allows us to reach consumers before the bad weather reaches them,” notes Ed Gold, advertising director at State Farm.

Clayton’s data gets used to serve ads via Weather’s popular app, and across the general mobile landscape. Here’s what’s next on his agenda: combining WeatherFX and JourneyFX with IBM Watson to create the ultimate ad-targeting machine. Sound ambitious? Colleagues say that Clayton has a way of making complicated projects doable.

“Effective leaders are able to clearly articulate a vision, point people in the right direction and inspire them to do their best as they strive to reach those goals,” says Domenic Venuto, gm of the consumer division at The Weather Co. “Cameron does all of these things seemingly effortlessly.”

Fidji Simo
Director of Product, Facebook
Age: 31
Fast fact: 1.74 billion mobile users

If Simo wrote a book, any modern marketer would be a fool not to read it. When she started at Facebook in 2011, her employer had no mobile advertising game to speak of. Now the digital media giant is bringing in a mind-boggling amount of mobile revenue every quarter, accruing $7.3 billion in Q4 of last year alone.
That kind of figure forever changed how Wall Street looked at investing in social startups. To wit, Snap Inc.—now planning its IPO on the exploding popularity of Snapchat—ought to personally shake Simo’s hand for laying the groundwork.

“From the moment she started at Facebook, Fidji’s brilliance was apparent to all who worked with her,” says Chris Cox, chief product officer at the Menlo Park, Calif.-based giant. “In the six years since, she’s led teams working on some of our most important challenges, helping connect people to advertisers and to publishers.”

Indeed, Simo has made the mobile newsfeed a moneymaking story that’s almost hard to believe. In Q4 2013, Facebook broke the $1 billion barrier in mobile sales for the first time. With the company’s mobile video ads operation exploding, can $10 billion every three months be very far off?

The bigger question might be: Does Simo have a literary agent lined up yet?

Adam Brotman
Evp, Global Retail Operations and Partner Digital Engagement, Starbucks
Age: 47
Fast fact: $21.3 billion in net revenue in 2016

Thanks to Brotman’s expertly orchestrated mobile ad campaigns, Starbucks has become a digital retail front-runner—27 percent of transactions happen via its smartphone app. What his team does after the ad might be most interesting. The app personalizes offers while notifying the consumer of the title and artist of the song being played inside a store. It ups the ante by building a Siri-like virtual assistant into the app. That feature, dubbed My Starbucks Barista, lets customers place an order by tapping a button and talking to a virtual barista. The bot then pings the order to a nearby store, where his or her drink is whipped up. Better than almost any other marketer, Brotman “understands the importance of the mobile micro-moment,” says consultant David Deal.

Harry Kargman
CEO, Kargo
Age: 42
Fast fact: 1.57 billion monthly ads served

Kargo, a bleeding-edge programmatic and direct ads provider, says it has the ability to reach every smartphone in the U.S. via an alliance of 80 premium publishers, giving it scale on par with Facebook and Google. What’s more, it has built 882 custom creative mobile campaigns that garner high rates of viewability and ad recall. CEO Harry Kargman’s team achieved double-digit sales growth from last year, landing 129 new accounts—its roster includes Tiffany, American Express, Toyota, Mondelez and Citibank. On the agency side, it works with IPG, Dentsu Aegis and Publicis shops.

Kargman is part startup story (he launched the company out of his New York apartment in 1999), part survivor story (on 9/11, his brand new offices in Lower Manhattan were affected). There were many pivots along the way before Kargman would become a torchbearer in the mobile space.

“Harry is an effective leader because he has an innate passion for the business and an insatiable drive for greatness,” says Kargo CMO Ed Romaine. “He works tirelessly to spread that energy around the organization and externally to our clients, partners and the industry.”

Dan Levi
CMO, Clear Channel Outdoor Americas
Age: 51
Fast fact: 200 campaigns combining OOH and mobile retargeting

When considering which media visionaries could be called out as the most innovative in mobile ad tech, executives in the out-of-home media space may not be the first to spring to mind. But over the last year, Levi has helped Clear Channel Outdoor Americas move beyond just signage to retargeting consumers who see its boards with mobile ads, as well as geofencing. Clear Channel notes that one retailer recently did such a campaign, and leveraging Levi’s measurement baby, called Radar, saw store visits multiply three times over. Boston Market, Toms and some 100 other brands have run similar efforts. Toms, in particular, found that a combination of signage, mobile ads and geofencing spiked ad recall by 300 percent.

To make all this possible, Levi has forged location-data deals with AT&T Data Patterns, Placed and PlaceIQ. He has teamed with Rubicon Project to strengthen audience insights. Due to Levi’s leadership, says Andrew Stevens, svp, research and insights at Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, “we’re starting to truly show the value of our medium.”

“It’s an innovative application of mobile technology that is moving the OOH industry forward,” adds Jill Nickerson, svp, director of OOH at Horizon Media.

Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan
CEO, Drawbridge
Age: 41
Fast fact: 650 percent growth in software customers

In late 2010, Sivaramakrishnan, then a scientist for Google’s AdMob, created technology that paired consumers with their smartphones and desktops—and Drawbridge, which has since revolutionized cross-device data targeting, was born. Six years on, she has partnered with the likes of Lyft, Oracle, Adobe, M&C Saatchi Mobile, Cardlytics, WeatherAlpha and Foursquare.

“Drawbridge has made it extremely easy for us to bring in our first-party data assets, allowing marketers to connect with these audiences no matter what device they are on and execute campaigns,” says Eric Friedman, Foursquare senior director of global sales and revenue operations. “They also allow us to provide marketers with insights that uniquely allow us to connect the digital and physical world, the holy grail of marketing.”

Sivaramakrishnan owns the code, too—although it wasn’t until last December that she secured the U.S. patent for the probabilistic software on which she founded her startup.

“She’s empowering other women to be in the space,” says Bhumika Dadbhawala, Drawbridge head of business development. “She’s saying, ‘Look, I did it. I think you have the ability to do the same.’”


David Clarke
Group Creative Director

Jon Reiling
Group Creative Director

Peter Lund
Creative Director

Ages: 35, 35, 33
Fast fact: 93 percent client retention rate

This trifecta demonstrates how creatives are brainstorming to meet clients’ needs, whether it’s creating mobile VR for French liquor brand Martell, omnichannel work for Delta Air Lines, a mobile-first customer care strategy for Verizon or a super smart, geo-aware app for Universal Orlando.

“[They] love mobile—it’s an ever-evolving medium and the fastest way to get ideas and experiences directly into the hands of customers,” says Erik Rogstad, managing director at AKQA. Because of the constant, out-of-the-box thinking of the trio, Rogstad adds, “our creativity is at its strongest on mobile as it’s the perfect blend of product and marketing.”

AKQA wants to help define the “mobility” space, which takes mobile marketing beyond apps and websites and into the realm of consumers’ offline journey. That capability is going to be hugely important to Virgin Sport, an amateur athletics events brand launched last month. The new entity will lean on AKQA’s creative-mobility talents for, as Mary Wittenberg, global CEO of Virgin Sport, puts it, “stunning design and customer experience.”

Peter Sellis
Director of Revenue Product, Snapchat
Age: 33
Fast fact: 160 million daily users

Sellis is the driving force behind Snap Ads, the immersive vertical video format that has completely disrupted the advertising industry over the last two years. His invention is central to both Snapchat’s rise in the marketing world and its much-anticipated IPO, and also the primary reason eMarketer projects that the Snap Inc.-owned mobile app will reach some $1 billion in 2017 sales.

Brands seem to love Snap Ads, which allow the app’s mostly Gen Y users to view video content before possibly swiping up to extend the marketing content. “The ability to engage Snapchat’s sought-after user base with full-screen, sound-on vertical video ads—or swipe ads that go to a website, trailer or feature without leaving Snapchat—is very attractive to our team,” explains Doug Neil, evp of digital marketing at Universal Pictures.

Sellis arrived at Snapchat in 2015 after a successful run at social media startup HelloSociety, which was owned by Science Inc. before its purchase by The New York Times Co.

“Peter’s approach to media has always been forward-thinking and ahead of the times,” remarks Michael Jones, CEO of Science Inc. “He was a tremendous asset at [Science Inc. and HelloSociety] and always had an incredible understanding of product and revenue.”

Jonathan Mildenhall
CMO, Airbnb
Age: 49
Fast fact: 68,000 Paris listings

Jonathan Mildenhall is reimagining experiential marketing for the mobile device, employing, as one example, Periscope’s 360-degree livestreaming channels to inspire vacation-minded consumers to travel to destinations ranging from Hawaii to Detroit while piquing their interest in Cameroonian cuisine. He has been a trendsetter by sponsoring stories on Instagram and other mobile video-friendly platforms. He also recently revamped the brand’s app to provide a range of new tools for hosts, including improved messaging features—leading to a four-star rating (after 6,761 consumer reviews) in app stores.

The mobile-first approach is consistent “across the business,” he says. “From a marketing perspective, this means that all our ideas must work on a three-and-a-half-inch screen. The implications of this are significant … We are increasingly developing marketing ideas that are designed exclusively with a social media platform in mind. Our mantra is simple: ‘community driven, mobile first, social by design.’”

Chris Dobson, CEO at The Exchange Lab, says Mildenhall has shown “the agility of the disruptor brand to test new and emerging experiential tech.”

“What Mildenhall is doing with the Airbnb brand is forward-thinking and on the pulse of what their customer base wants to interact with,” adds Greg Ng, vp of digital engagement at PointSource.


Cathy Butler
Evp, Digital Products and Services

Andrew Carlson
Evp, Experience Design
Ages: 42, 39
Fast fact: 10 client wins in 2016

This dynamic pair tag-teams on endeavors ranging from crafting mobile strategy for Rihanna at New York Fashion Week to running beacon-based ads for Purina and creating smart campaigns for Whole Foods Market. A rarity in the here today/gone tomorrow agency world, Carlson and Butler’s working relationship at DigitasLBi dates back a decade.

“There are those that are fast followers and then there are those pioneers who see the horizon and seek out what’s on the other side, not knowing what they may find,” says Jeff Jenkins, global executive, digital marketing and channel activation at Whole Foods, who also worked with the duo while at Taco Bell. “Andrew and Cathy have consistently charted a new course in mobile that is not just about new technology, but how that technology—when paired with consumer insights—can lead to quantifiable business results.”

The team puts DigitasLBi in the middle of cutting-edge conversations around everything mobile, including bots, commerce, artificial intelligence and virtuality reality. Their award-winning app design for Teladoc, according to Anne Stowell, vp of member experience at the digital medics service, is driving “customer adoption and engagement, and more broadly, is helping transform the way people access healthcare.”

Ari Brandt
CEO, MediaBrix
Age: 46
Fast fact: 650 million moments served

The rap on mobile ads is that they are often cold and irrelevant. But Ari Brandt has ingeniously turned them into hot offers. MediaBrix software targets consumers when they are in a particular mood or at a specific time of the day, enabling, say, a fitness brand to serve someone who has achieved a certain level in his or her workout with an ad making a congratulatory offer. The promotions are served via standard, 360-degree or vertical video and can run across 1,300 apps.

Brandt and his team boast 100 percent viewability and 99 percent gender accuracy. Marketers running the system’s ads—which his team likes to call “moments”—represent such brands as Sprint, Capital One, DiGiorno and Hershey’s.

“As in-app mobile video becomes increasingly desirable for our brands, we’re looking for both scale and quality engagement,” says Amanda Zaky, senior manager of digital media at Mars U.S. “MediaBrix is uniquely able to deliver both, with their deep platform of premium apps and deep insights into mobile user receptivity. They allow our brands to truly connect with mobile users during key moments and build relationships while driving impact.”

Dipanshu Sharma
Founder, xAd
Age: 41
Fast fact: 70 percent reach among U.S. consumers

There are many big players in the location-data space, but Dipanshu Sharma’s xAd always seems a few steps ahead. The company’s system reaches 500 million consumers monthly—50 million of whom share their location every day—and can zero in on what buildings they are in. Such location data is gleaned from more than 100,000 apps. Known by his peers as simply “D,” he’s also assembled a sure-fire sales team serving clients including Dunkin Donuts, Columbia Sportswear, BMW, Google, PepsiCo and Arby’s.

“Mobile technologies continue to play a larger role in reaching consumers and driving them to our restaurants,” says Mary Ellen Barto, vp, media services at Arby’s. “Our category is highly competitive, one in which decisions are made quickly and where loyalty is a premium. By partnering with xAd, we’re able to better identify, connect and attract consumers based on the depth of location intelligence [they] provide.”

While xAD won’t reveal revenue figures, last year it projected $100 million in sales. And after raising $42 million in funding last November, Sharma appears to be primed for even bigger things. As industry legend John Costello, who retired as Dunkin’s marketing chief last month, says of Sharma, “’D’ is a true visionary.”

This story first appeared in the Feb. 20, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.