Even context may not be king

While we are beginning to become quietly confident that communications companies are now in a far better position than they were two years ago, there is still cause for concern. Operators are collaborating, innovating and partnering, all of which is good.

We still worry about advertising though.

Berg Insight believes that location-based marketing will reach annual revenues of €10.8 billion by 2018. And we have always said that operators and those who advertise through them and others such as Facebook need to careful – and to create trust or ultimately fail.

The only adverts that anyone in this office have clicked in the last six months have been completely coincidental of context. Plans were being made for a trip to the States, but no airline fares had been checked at that point, so no-one knew what was happening. Coincidentally, an advert for cheap flights popped up, so why not have a look?

Recent examples have been described on these pages. Our editor’s cousin found himself being tracked by Google while in Paris, and our publisher was offered a photo album of a trip to Amsterdam, complete with landmarks, maps and times.

Spooky or cool?

It is a fine line, but context has to be almost telepathic to get right.

A couple were recently re-united with their Facebook accounts (they hadn’t lost them, they had just got bored). They happened to be engaged and had put this on their timeline or status or whatever. They live in Edinburgh.

A few days ago one of them saw an advert on their Facebook timeline asking whether she was looking for wedding venues in Edinburgh. So, that seems fine, an algorithm somewhere had linked the two engaged people, added where they lived, multiplied this by forty two and served up an advert based on the data.


Not really. They are getting married the day after tomorrow and decided where to get married over six months ago. Facebook had no way knowing when they were getting married, but served an advert anyway, without that critical piece of information.

There will be many examples of annoying or ‘spooky’ choices of adverts being served to customers. Some will be amusing, like the offer of a free cold drink at a bar for passing customers – except, presumably the ones passing at 50 mph because they are on a train.

It will not be easy to get right. Just as Richard Branson has come to understand with his plans to take people into space, now delayed by 10 years. His defence? “It turns out it is rocket science.”

Really effective context based advertising may not be rocket science, but it might be pretty close to it. And he who gets it right will definitely win the day.

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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.


  1. They got married on Friday at a fantastic ceremony in Edinburgh and are currently enjoying their honeymoon at a secret location in Italy.

    • So…is that how y’all ended up in your fancy hotel room? Facebook found it for you? So because I ‘liked that photo’, I’m also going to get hit up with a spooky ad at some point when I mention the word ‘holiday’? I think this is happening quite a lot already and we’ve gotten so used to it that we’re just taking it in our stride – how else to explain the rubber sex dolls that keep popping up in my feed…

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