Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ring in The Inventory...Ringleader

I had a good conversation with Mark Pearlstein this morning. Mark is the V.P. of Business Development for Ringleader, a mobile ad network that has been in the media recently for having received $6 million in funding from W2 Group. I was curious to see how Ringleader is differentiating itself from other mobile networks and was pleasantly surprised with some of the bells and whistles.

Ringleader helps publishers monetize mobile media traffic by managing its inventory, dynamically delivering formats and creating targeting opportunities that advertisers need. Currently Ringleader is working with 15 top tier US publishers and over 2800 websites. Local sites have been among the earliest to join the fold giving the network highly relevant localized content to serve ads on.

On the agency side, the company allows media planners to serve ads through third parties like Atlas and DART breaking down some of the barriers to proposing these types of programs to their clients. Ringleader alone is able to target by zipcode, carrier, phone type and in some cases to a few square meters but placing the media through a mainstream ad server opens the door to consistency across one media plan and media agencies like that...a lot.

The real differentiator is the technology. While most mobile ad networks are still using WAP based server solutions, Ringleader’s technology allows one piece of creative to adapt to all mobile platforms without having to specially format the piece. The technology can detect the device, it’s OS and whether it can handle video (and what kind). Aside from the time and money saved on production costs, this creates rich opportunities to perform A/B testing and tiered campaigns.

Other interesting tools provided by the network include contextual advertising opportunities and a "click to call" feature (with calls routed through their server) that closes the loop on fully tracking ad effectiveness. Mark shared some interesting developments coming up in Q3 involving behavioral ad opportunities and the ability to frequency cap. I believe that this development will be an important marker in the mobile industry. The ability to label phones by content browsed will change the way many look at mobile advertising.

We discussed the implications of mobility on inventory, and how the small screen limits the ability to sell the 4 or 5 ad units traditionally seen online. This problem will only get worse as heavier hitting brands come in to play. Mark said that the "Holy Grail" was the ability to advertise to a user that is 10 feet away from a restaurant. Without subscribed push media, the inventory shortages will make this a difficult execution. Text based alerts will be one way to capitalize on the proximity factor but as with emails and RSS feeds, users will have to manage the flow and frequency.

Putting a further squeeze on inventory are the four verticals that Mark described as early adopters. Travel & Leisure, Finance, Entertainment and Automotive. The four monsters are big online spenders and can clear out inventory for the many local businesses that have been waiting for the “10 feet away from my restaurant” opportunity to finally come. We briefly touched on the premium CPMs that can be expected from placing mobile media. As the costs soar through competition among the above four, will mainstream or small businesses stand a chance?

Mark mentioned the ability to do cross platform advertising. Giving advertisers and agencies the ability to build one campaign and include all digital platforms (and calling), is a huge opportunity for them. While we didn’t dwell on this subject, in light of inventory issues ahead, I’d have to say that this consolidated offering might be Mark’s real Holy Grail.

The overall impression that I got was that Ring Leader is working to simplify mobile media. I think the industry has been waiting for that. The $5 billion question is, in the simplified world of mobile advertising, will there be enough to go around and will consumers warm up to the creative new formats that will inevitably arise as a result?

Currently Ringleader is operating in the US but is working on partnerships in Europe and Canada.

I’ll keep you posted…

No comments: