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Why 7 of the 11 Fortune 100 auto companies are AdNear clients

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Who wouldn’t want a client list that includes seven of the 11 auto companies in Fortune 100? What Volkswagen, Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Honda, Nissan, and BMW have in common, apart from being some of the world’s top car brands, is that they are all clients of AdNear.

To understand why they need AdNear, you have to go to the genesis of this Indian adtech firm, now headquartered in Singapore. The team tried to map the location of mobile devices without having to rely on GPS (which most people either don’t have or switch off to save battery). For about three years, starting from 2009, thousands of people were hired in cities across India to drive around with mapping devices, logging mobile towers and wifi zones as well as other geographical signposts. This was tedious, expensive and time-consuming, but it paid off big time.

The mobile and app revolution made this unique geo-location data a gold mine. Now, as soon as you enter a mapped zone and open any app on your phone, AdNear tracks a device’s location based on its proximity to a known wifi hotspot or cell tower. No personally identifiable data like phone numbers are recorded in order to comply with privacy regulations, but a unique ID can be assigned to the device. So, the next time it shows up in some other zone, the tracker knows it’s probably you.

AdNear launched in November 2012, armed with this unique geo-location map coupled with millions of user profiles, or device profiles, if you like. The company makes intelligent guesses about you based on where your device hangs out – if days are spent on campus, you’re probably a student. Or if the phone shows up on an Aussie beach day after day, most likely it belongs to a ‘beach-bum’ Down Under. And beach-wear brands would love to target their mobile ads at these people.

Now you begin to understand the value of AdNear’s dataset to the big auto companies – instead of throwing their ads out into the ether and hoping for the best, they can target auto enthusiasts. And in a mobile-first world, with brands jostling for consumer attention on a small screen, the more intelligent the targeting, the better the chances of getting a response.

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Quarter of a billion user profiles and growing fast

Backed by Sequoia Capital and Canaan Partners, AdNear moved its headquarters from Bangalore to Singapore last year. Today, it has a dataset of close to a quarter of a billion user profiles and 7.2 billion location points in 5,100 cities (defined as places with a population of over 100,000) mostly in India, Australia, Southeast Asia – and now, rising rapidly over Japan. Every day, 1.2 million user profiles are being added.

Anil Mathews, founder and CEO of AdNear, justifiably calls it a big data company now, given its humongous dataset which can be sliced and diced to provide unique insights to brands looking to target specific customer segments.

At the outset, AdNear profiled travelers in airports, shoppers in grocery stores or malls, high net-worth individuals spending days downtown and nights in rich suburbs, students on campus and home-makers who spend the day in residential areas. As brands started getting traction on those, they wanted to drill deeper.

Mathews charts out for Tech in Asia how this grew: “Audi in Singapore wanted us to target car enthusiasts. The easiest way was to look at anybody engaged with automobile-related apps, those spotted at auto shows or around car dealers, and create profiles based on that. It got so interesting that we started creating custom segments for brands, taking in suggestions from them and enhancing those. This also helped us win longer-term campaigns. The usual campaigns in mobile advertising are for a month. We are now getting half-year or even year-long campaigns with brands.”

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From auto majors and telcos to Coca Cola

The auto companies are obviously not the only ones who have cottoned on to the value of this data. Samsung and Hitachi, JP Morgan and HSBC, Nestle, and P&G are the other Fortune 100 companies using AdNear.

Even a big brand like Coca Cola, which has written the ultimate book on marketing, can get insights on its audience it had never imagined. “They might have thought they were reaching out to students, but our data could show they were actually going to home-makers. That surprises them. And it helps them take decisions on their next campaign, whom to target, and when to target,” explains Mathews.

The clientele is diverse and AdNear has to figure out what’s possible in domains as different as soft drinks and telecommunications. For SingTel in Singapore, it involved targeting users as soon as they landed at Changi airport. If the user wasn’t already with SingTel, she saw an ad on the benefits of roaming with the telco. “Until we came in, SingTel didn’t know such a targeting approach was possible,” says Mathews.

Besides, AdNear can show exactly how much more engaging a targeted mobile campaign is compared to a ‘spray and pray’ campaign, because this is measurable. When Pizza Hut in Jakarta wanted to increase footfalls via promotional offers, AdNear targeted consumers within a radius of 5km around 80 Pizza Hut outlets in Jakarta, and saw improved engagement over traditional ads.

P&G wanted to launch a beauty product with hoardings around Changi airport, but got stuck in a long waiting list because of Singapore’s strict rules on such advertising. AdNear persuaded P&G to shift to a mobile campaign, because everybody using phones in the airport could be targeted, given coupons, and drawn into P&G-affiliated brand stores right there inside the airport.

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AdNear’s data scientists are constantly learning how to leverage their growing location data in conjunction with user profiles that capture behavior and context. The focus has shifted from location-based advertising to a location-based audience – or LBA 2.0 as AdNear likes to call it.

LBA 2.0 keeps throwing up possibilities that brands can’t think of, so campaigns come out of brainstorming sessions with AdNear. Audi in Singapore wanted to promote its all-wheel drive technology – Quattro – which helps stabilize the vehicle in tricky road conditions. Singapore has some challenging roads with sharp curves, and lots of affluent people, so this was ideal Quattro territory.

What AdNear did was to plot areas with dangerous curves as “Quattro zones”, create a heat map, and help Audi run a campaign on smartphones and tablets. The video ad comes up when the target audience is in a Quattro zone, and shows what it would be like to drive an Audi there.

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Land of the rising sun, here we come

AdNear has come a long way since Tech in Asia first wrote about it a year ago.

With the diverse experiences of India, Australia and Southeast Asia behind it, and having got its LBA know-how down pat, the company is now ready to launch in what may be its most lucrative market in Asia-Pacific: Japan.

It had taken all of three years to get all the data and algorithms in place before AdNear launched in India. It took only six days to do it for Tokyo. And that includes the latitude-longitude of a mobile user as well as what’s in the user’s vicinity: like a hospital or how many coffee shops.

This is harder to do than it sounds. Trying to locate a mobile device from a cell tower data, without GPS, can go way off the mark. AdNear’s algorithms factor in parameters like angle of arrival and signal strength to arrive within 20 metres of a user’s location. So when Tech in Asia asked Mathews if AdNear could be upstaged by a me-too rival, especially in new markets, he sounded quietly confident:

Our secret sauce is an ability to find a location. That’s tough. Then comes, how we use this data to come out with audience profiles. Getting here takes more time. Even if somebody starts now, it will probably take 18-24 months to reach the second point. In mobile advertising, that is like a decade.

So AdNear has set its sights far and wide, ready to enter Japan now and many more countries after that. Global mobile advertising spending is forecast to reach US$18 billion in 2014, up from the estimated US$13.1 billion in 2013, according to Gartner, Inc. The market is expected to grow to US$41.9 billion by 2017. The company has just entered into a partnership with global media agency network Mindshare to take audience and location based mobile advertising services to brands across APAC.

Anil Mathews, who has just returned to Bangalore from Tokyo, says most of his innovative ideas come to him when he is traveling. “Hours spent on planes, waiting at airports, are when I get thinking probably.”

Watch out, Mathews, one of your targeted ads may find you at the airport. If you’re lucky, it will be this Volkswagen creative ad that gets you to fill in the colors and take it to a showroom for a prize:

volkswagen adnear Editing by Terence Lee

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