Digital Conference

Verizon Exec Tries to Structure Media Around People, Not Content

John Harrobin Makes His Case at Ad Age Digital Conference

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Marketers should work toward structuring media around people rather than content, said John Harrobin, VP-marketing communications and customer-relationship management at Verizon, an advertiser with more than $2 billion in U.S. measured-media spending.

Mr. Harrobin sang the praises of data-management platforms (DMP), at Ad Age 's Digital Conference in New York today. By targeting consumers with online ads rather than just buying against content, Verizon is tweaking ad messaging to suit prospects. For example, the company would target hypothetical customer Sam, a web user who Verizon's DMP knows likes sports, with an ad promoting NFL's app.

John Harrobin, Verizon's VP-marketing communications and CRM, speaks at the Ad Age Digital Conference Tuesday morningin New York.
John Harrobin, Verizon's VP-marketing communications and CRM, speaks at the Ad Age Digital Conference Tuesday morningin New York. Credit: Patrick Butler

That's not to say Verizon is forsaking content companies. Verizon also advertises on Fox's music-competition show "X Factor" in prime time. But Mr. Harrobin said that even in such major-media moments he's looking to create new tools, "not just new messages." That took the form of an "X Factor" mobile-app companion to let viewers vote for their favorites.

Marketers and developers can create such tools because newer sensors collect more advanced data streams, Mr. Harrobin said.

He pointed to Nike Plus sneakers, embedded with microchips so that runners can track their routines. He showed the audience a pulsing map of New York created completely by runners' feet.

"This is human activity talking to us in real time," Mr. Harrobin said. "This type of data wasn't available to us a few years ago. With all these sensors, we can build these maps to gain insights about our brands and businesses."

Even the smartphones Mr. Harrobin helps market are "sensors in your pockets," he said. Phones such as those in Verizon's Droid line have accelerometers, which respond to the device's movement. One Boston-based startup, StreetBump, uses accelerometers to measure potholes -- when a phone in a car jumps after driving over a pothole, the app measures it and sends the data, with a GPS-coordinate, to a city database.

"Its not just about seeing the world with new eyes but about using tools and technologies to measure things we were never able to measure," Mr. Harrobin said. "We can then make connections between people and things. As marketers that 's what we're paid to do."

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