Location-based ad network Thinknear (a division of Telenav) on Monday unveiled its Location Score to help advertisers gauge the accuracy of location data.
The Location Score is a 100-point scale (100 being most accurate) that helps marketers understand the quality of location data used in their campaigns. The technology uses Thinknear’s platform to quantify the difference between a mobile user’s inferred location from an ad request and his or her physical location, based on an analysis of various data points.
“The industry is doing a poor job of self-policing itself on location data,” said Eli Portnoy, GM of Thinknear. “There’s no accountability to provide accurate data and so we’re trying to push a standard that hopefully other organizations can adopt and give it more weight.”
1-800-Flowers.com is one of the companies that has adopted Location Score (Portnoy declined to say how many clients are using the Location Score in total). “Outside of Location Score, our options are pretty limited,” said Amit Shah, VP of online marketing, mobile and social at 1-800-Flowers.com. “If a vendor tells us they are targeting accurately, there aren't currently many ways for us to verify it.”
Tim Dunn, director of strategy and mobile at digital agency Isobar US, agreed that it’s difficult for advertisers and agencies to vet the accuracy of location data.
“While the success of any placement should ultimately be judged by its ROI independently of the varying contributory factors,” Dunn said, “those with an interest in the detail will find it not that easy to dig into the weeds of how their ads are being served.”
The problem, Dunn continued, is that there are multiple techniques of sourcing a user’s location as well as different types of location data (such as ZIP code, GPS, mobile IP and Wi-Fi). The location data, for example, could include the ZIP code the user enters to register for a Web service, while being miles from home, instead of a true GPS location signal. “To fill this gap, a GPS signal (which is considered the most accurate form of location data) is often inferred or made up to target the ad,” Dunn said.
But despite grumblings from the industry, it is too early to introduce rules on the collection and distribution of location data, argued Joe Laszlow, senior director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the IAB.
“At this stage, trade organizations are still listening to the buy and sell sides about the various (location-based) capabilities,” Laszlow said. “We don’t want to move prematurely because any time you set up rules, you risk limiting competition.”
However, Laszlow added, companies should take greater efforts to disclose and summarize the source of their data. The origin of the location data should be tied to one variable to help advertisers compare and gauge the accuracy of the data, he said.
“The industry is going through some growing pains using location to reach a relevant audience,” Laszlow said. “It comes down to a couple things: On the agency side, it’s about figuring out how much location specificity they need and on the ad sellers’ side there needs to be more transparency and clarity in terms of how the data is being transmitted.”