Smartphones Put Email on the Podium

If there was ever an underdog in the interactive advertising Olympics, it would be email.

But a funny thing happened between Beijing 2008 and London 2012: the rise of the smartphone. The organizers of these Games knew this of course, and they featured the “connected lives” of the audience in the opening ceremonies. Remember those awkward check-ins and text bubbles?

The smartphone not only disrupted the Olympics – frustrating NBC’s efforts to timeshift the games for maximum TV monetization – but it also disrupted interactive advertising’s decade-old cookie-based targeting model.

In the digital marketing game, targeting cookies are the performance-enhancing drugs that advertisers lean on to win the best impressions.

But on the mobile web, cookies are as spotty as coverage of archery at the Olympics.

And if you’re a cookie, it’s not getting any better any time soon in mobile.

In mobile, thanks to Steve Jobs, there are almost no cookies or Flash. Sure, there’s JavaScript, but when there are no cookies to target, there’s much less audience intelligence available. So advertisers are effectively blind and cannot easily implement frequency control or segment targeting how they’re used to doing in display.

So what’s an advertiser to do if they want to win the race to the best mobile impression?

There are a number of options. The course that most advertisers have been following has been to use mobile apps offered on the two major app platforms – iOS and Android. Until recently, these have allowed advertisers to target unique device identifier (UDID); targeting device-specific fingerprints in segments of one. This has been traditionally effective.

App developers and all of the subsequent in-app ad platforms relied heavily on this. But since Apple announced that it would no longer support UDID hashing on iOS devices, it looks like a large, targetable population is going to become harder to find.

This is where email comes to the rescue of advertisers who are addressing a vastly different, forward-leaning audience of smartphone users. Why?

With email, everyone knows your name, or at least whatever you call yourself there. Just the mere fact that you’re receiving an email, whether it’s a one-to-one communication from a friend, an alert from, or a mass email from a large online retailer, means that you’re known. And you’ve been targeted. That’s not a bad thing, especially because you gave them permission to do so.

Why does this work? Because an email address is a unique identifier. And as such, it makes for a great primary key for a database. So much so that most commercial third-party databases use a hashed (encrypted) version of your email address as a way to safely and securely manage any record about you. This MD5 (or SHA-1) hash is the matching element that allows the process of appends and other marketing performance tactics to improve targeting.

Advertisers who want to reach consumers now have the opportunity to advertise within newsletters and alerts, just like they can on the web. And with device detection, and matchbacks via MD5 hashes, advertisers can target subscribers of email newsletters in real time, at the moment an email is opened on a smartphone, just like they’ve been doing on publisher websites for a decade. Using a combination of context (newsletter category), demographics (based on third-party database matches), behavior (opened on mobile), and location (IP-based geo-targeting), it’s possible to target app downloads, local offers, and other mobile-friendly advertising just as you have been able to do so on the stationary desktop-based web.

So just because UDID is going away and there’s no salvation for cookies, doesn’t mean you can’t perform in mobile. You just need to “match your hash.” Ready, set, bid!

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