Beacons: Ad opportunity of dreams?


By Mike Crooks, head of Mubaloo Innovation Lab 

When loading certain news sites on a mobile phone today, it’s quite easy to see what drives people to use ad blockers. Even with a fast 4G connection, sites can be slow to load, full screen adverts take over the screen and what is usually a fluid scroll, turns into a jumpy mess.

Even when you try hard to avoid clicking on ads, often you find your phone going through browser acrobatics, jumping into new windows and behaving like an excited puppy, but without the cute factor.

Don’t mess it up

Mobile advertising is one of the most important things for the industry to not mess up, yet the industry is currently doing quite a good job of it. It’s a mammoth task to try to fix; it was recently revealed that Google has a team of over 1,000 people tasked with trying to weed out adverts that don’t meet their rules. For a company that has built its fortunes around advertising, it shows how dire the situation has become.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the industry has messed up with advertising. Twelve years ago, Bluetooth was first coming to phones. Everyone who was around back then surely remembers the excitement of being able to send a message, file or image to people in your vicinity with Bluetooth turned on. Considering that back then most people would have still been using 2G, Bluetooth advertising was appealing. It meant that brands could deliver messages to people as they passed a location, without relying on mobile data.

An early 2005 trial at Heathrow, to promote Land Rover, achieved a 15% engagement with customers, which was clearly very impressive. Coldplay even got in on the action early, with trials held at six London railway stations. Posters at the locations offered to send promotional material, such as song clips, to passers-by. Over two weeks, 87,000 phones were detected, with 17% downloading the clips. The impact of campaigns like these soon led to other brands jumping on board, with Bluetooth being hailed as the next big thing in advertising.

Missing fizz

Of course, it wasn’t long until Bluetooth lost some of its fizz. The combination of the rise in spammy advertising, hackers finding ways to exploit the technology and the realisation that Bluetooth wasn’t great for battery life, left the burgeoning Bluetooth advertising market in tatters by 2009. Of course, the other big nail in the coffin was the iPhone, which severely limited the functionality of Bluetooth for a number of years.

In 2013, with the introduction of iBeacon, Apple opened the potential for hyper-location advertising in-apps. Since being introduced, the technology has been rolled out across thousands of retail stores, sports grounds and other venues across the US and used or trialled in the UK by brands such as Unilever, Odeon, Tesco and Waitrose for marketing and advertising purposes.

Over the past year, Google also entered the fray with its own implementation. Google’s Eddystone is designed to be an open format for beacons, supporting the delivery of URLs, proximity based interaction, in-app triggering and, most importantly, it works on both iOS and Android.

Eddystone is also able to work with mobile browsers that support the ‘Physical Web’. This means that marketers, without having their app installed, have the opportunity to understand metrics such as: how many people have passed an outdoor advert; dwell time; number of visits; and engagement with an advert or message that could appear within the browser.

Having been on Chrome for iOS since July last year, Eddystone’s Physical Web functionality also landed on Chrome for Android recently. Compared with Bluetooth advertising 10 years ago, Eddystone and iBeacon are about monitoring activity and triggering actions in apps, rather than sending files over Bluetooth.

Masses of potential

There is of course huge potential for the technology for marketers and advertisers, but as we’ve seen with mobile web advertising, it’s vital that the user experience is carefully considered to ensure Bluetooth is kept on.

With the number of wearables and other devices using Bluetooth to connect to our smartphones, there are more reasons to keep it on now than ever. To help protect the user experience, when users download apps that may use beacon interactions, users have to opt-in to enable both notifications and beacon background monitoring.

As an industry, the advertising industry needs to take into account that users are actively showing that their experience is the thing that matters most to them. Advertising is of course vital to publishers and other websites for revenue. Yet, delivering poor experiences has hurt publishers and, in so doing, the ability for advertisers to reach end users.

Just as trust was rebuilt with Bluetooth, trust needs to be rebuilt with advertising. This is especially true when it comes to using hyper-location technologies like beacons to trigger advertising or notifications. Users need to understand the value that they get out of a brand’s ability to deliver relevant messages, based on where they are. It is far too easy for beacon advertising to feel intrusive to users if it’s not done properly.

We live in the age of the consumer, where the consumer holds the power. Consumers can block out advertising noise with the flick of a button. The industry should be working to make sure they don’t want to.

Mubaloo Innovation Lab is a division of enterprise mobile app consultancy, Mubaloo, which is a UK-based mobile strategy consultancy and business app developer.


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