Millennial Media Gets To The Point Of Location Advertising

Not content to be 'just' a mobile ad network, Millennial's found that when you’re pursuing a location ad strategy , it’s best not go alone.

Joran Lawrence, Millennial Media’s Director of Product Management
Joran Lawrence, Millennial Media’s Director of Product Management

Millennial Media began as a mobile ad network in 2006, a time when the phrase, “year of mobile,” was still a long distance from being taken seriously by marketers and agencies. Since advertising on portable connected devices has accelerated, the company has been going through a period of reinvention. The Baltimore, MD-based firm is moving away from its traditional business of in-app mobile banner ads across its network of publishers.

The focus under former AdMeld and Yahoo exec Michael Barrett, who was named CEO in January, is now to build more programmatic, real-time ad targeting tools for agencies and marketers. And location is at the center of those plans.

Last month, Millennial unveiled its “Point: Audience Location Advertising” suite, a software offering that promises to connect brands with consumers during “the mindsets, moments, and locations that matter most.” While many companies like to boast about their “do it yourself” and “proprietary” solutions, Millennial opted to produce Point with a key partner: mapping analytics provider Esri.

Signs Point To Evolution

The expansion of Millennial’s Point products preceded Barrett’s hiring. Perhaps the biggest boost Millennial got in heading in building up its location tools came after it acquired rival mobile ad net JumpTap last summer for $200 million. The focus on location tools was something that Joran Lawrence, who kept his Jumptap title as director of Product Management as the company was integrated into Millennial, has been working towards for the past three years.

There are two main facets to the Point suite, Lawrence notes.

“There are parts of this product set that have existed for a long time,” Lawrence says. “For example, Point targeting isn’t anything new per se. About 90 percent, if not more, of all of our campaigns use geography in one form or another whether it’s country, state, Designated Market Area (DMA), or at the hyperlocal level. But there are also things that we were never able to do before.”

For one thing, there are more precise, real-time abilities around attribution and geo-fencing that advances Millennial’s toolset.

Specifically, there’s Point Audience Frames, which is powered by Esri. It aims to inject greater contextual analysis at the moment a mobile consumer is near a targeted place. The kind of context Audience Frames provides to campaign builders is based on targeting by certain parameters — e.g., household income, environment (urban vs. suburban), and a propensity for shopping at particular kinds of shops, among other marketing touchpoints.

Incremental Innovation

Separately, the Point-Fencing option looks pretty much like a standard geo-fencing tool. The difference here, Lawrence says, is that Millennial adds an extra layer of targeting through the use of its own and Esri-powered location-based audience data. It enables brands to target consumers within a pre-determined radius as well as a specific area. For example, a marketer might want to target people in Central Park widely and then drill down further to the carousel or zoo locations.

Still to come: Millennial is currently beta testing the Point-Fencing Route product. This additional layer of data will tell advertisers and brands where to target based on “distance of time,” Lawrence says. For example, an advertiser can now target an audience within a 10-minute drive, such as from a large mall or grocery store, instead of fixed miles.

“Point is a perfect example of our effort to develop incremental innovation, where we’re constantly taking what’s currently in the market, identifying a gap based on our advertisers’ demands and needs, and coming up with a new modification,” Lawrence says. “So we take an ability like geo-fencing and add qualities like distance and time for a person with a device to get to the place. It’s not a radical reinvention. But it is a significant advancement for location-based advertising.”

Partners In Location Data

The introduction of Esri’s mapping software with Millennial’s existing — and growing — user data and ad placement capabilities is designed to provide benefits to both entities. The partnership also points to Esri’s evolution; the company, known for providing “Geographic Information Systems,” was originally formed to help consult on land use issues and environmental policies. More recently, it has worked with news outlets on providing global maps.

Marketing is not new to Esri, notes Jim Young, the company’s business development head, adding that Millennial’s position in the marketplace as an independent ad network made the fit “a natural one.”

Esri is providing both data and spatial technology for various types of audience creation and segmentation that is tied to the location signal from sites in Millennial’s network. “We also provide the ability to visualize and analyze large, complex spatial datasets,” Young says.

Conversely, Millennial enables Esri to engage in deeper conversations on paid, earned, and owned media for its large commercial customers, Young adds.

“Millennial’s value proposition isn’t necessarily about going out and creating new data, [though] we will do that,” Lawrence says. “Mostly, this partnership is about merging listings data into the mobile signals from users’ devices. Esri offers us two main things: data that we can apply to geography that informs a marketer’s ad targeting. The second thing that Esri provides us with is software tools that we can use internally to improve media planning and our own internal reporting.”

Looking at how the ad tech space is growing, Esri sees the relationship with Millennial as a strategic cornerstone for both companies. “We are excited to jointly develop meaningful new solutions for this market,” Young says. “There are hundreds of ways to segment audiences using location and Esri’s location platform enables many novel approaches for extracting insight and context from a mobile device.”

‘Mobile First,’ Not Mobile Only

Matt Tengler, Millennial Media’s VP of Product
Matt Tengler, Millennial Media’s VP of Product

As Millennial continues its programmatic moves, location isn’t the only thing on its collective mind. Over the next few months, the company (which claims to currently reach about 52 million screens, from mobile to tablet to the desktop web) will broaden its focus on cross-screen functions. As more ad dollars make their way toward mobile, the general feeling among media buyers is that ads on connected devices — wearables, the “Internet of Things” — will become more central to marketing efforts, as the goals of building brand awareness and performance/direct response become more entwined. The name of Millennial’s cross-screen product is Path.

“We’re absolutely mobile first and we are actually buying PC inventory today,” says Matt Tengler, Millennial’s VP of Product. “That means we’ve made the leap outside of mobile. Our view is that mobile is the connective tissue in many ways. It’s the centerpiece, so it’s the one that moves around the user. It can be the driver of connections between the digital and the physical world. And that kind of use case is part of Millennial’s DNA.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.