ULocate Launches Ad Network for Location-Aware Mobile Devices

Boston’s uLocate Communications, known up to now mainly as the creator of the Where local search and recommendation app popular with many smartphone owners, is turning into something more. Today it announced the launch of a geographically targeted mobile advertising network called Where Ads that other mobile publishers can also use to sell local ads for their location-aware mobile apps or Web pages.

That puts uLocate in direct competition with several other mobile ad networks, including local players Jumptap and Quattro Wireless (now an Apple subsidiary)—except that those companies don’t specialize in delivering ads relevant to users’ current locations.

In fact, uLocate is still a Quattro customer, according to Dan Gilmartin, uLocate’s vice president of marketing. But after noticing that Where users weren’t clicking on many of the ads supplied by Quattro—and in some cases said they were giving up on the app because of the low quality of the ads—the startup decided to see whether it could do better by getting location-based ads directly from companies who work directly with local merchants. One thing led to another, and now uLocate is supplying such ads to a dozen other companies, including Boston-based MocoSpace and Cambridge, MA-based Geocade, Gilmartin says.

“We were getting a lot of complaints [from Where users] saying ‘Love your app, hate the ads—sorry, I’m going to look for something else,'” he recounts. “That hurt, because we spend a lot of money on customer acquisition. We thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ So we started talking to a couple of companies that aggregate local merchants and started delivering their ads in the application. And lo and behold, a couple of things happened.”

First, Gilmartin says, the complaints stopped. “We improved the service just by changing the nature of the advertisements inside the app,” he says. Second, click-through rates increased dramatically, which allowed uLocate to start selling ads for higher prices.

“We contacted a few folks and it turned out that everybody else had the same problem—lousy ad inventory that doesn’t perform well. So our announcement now is around the launch of … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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