How to master the location-based ad game

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You've been hearing this since the turn of the century: "You're walking past a Starbucks when your phone pings you with a coupon for a dollar off a latte." And you've probably tuned it out. 2009 won't be the year that mobile coupons become reality, but it is time for you to get on the ball before it starts rolling.

Why now?

The slogging evolution of mobile devices and mobile internet penetration have kept location-based advertising a gleam in marketers' eyes. But this year brought several announcements that could put location-based ads over the top.

  • Verizon signed Microsoft to provide location-based services and advertising for mobile customers. Under the five-year agreement, Microsoft will manage search and display advertising for the mobile web, creating a one-stop shop for advertisers and ad agencies. Announcing the deal, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer promised to help advertisers reach consumers who are on-the-go more effectively.

  • Google followed up last year's provision of opt-in location awareness with Google Latitude, a feature that lets you see where your friends are. The search company has refused to comment on the prospects for advertising, but experts see Google as ideally placed to add a location layer to its ad algorithms; think Gmail ads on steroids.
  • NAVTEQ released LocationPoint, an advertising platform that can deliver both display and interactive ads to mobile phones, personal navigation devices, and in-vehicle navigation systems. It's working with Interpublic Group's Emerging Media Lab to demonstrate location-based ad targeting. By the way, in 2007, Nokia bought NAVTEQ, one of the top providers of location info, for $8.1 billion, saying that the deal made sense because of the swift growth of location services.

  • Ford Motor Co. announced Sync, technology that will connect cars to the mobile internet in order to receive traffic, directions, business search and other information. Ford expects to have 1 million SYNC-equipped vehicles on the road by the third quarter of 2009. Microsoft is its partner, so Ballmer's boast likely covers the service: If you can search for an Italian restaurant, you can bet Microsoft will try to sell paid listings.

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