Google’s Waze partners with WPP to grow its advertising platform

Google navigation app Waze is ramping up its ads business with a new deal with WPP, home of ad-buying giant GroupM.

WPP said its partnership with Waze will grant them unique access to its software so the agency can easily onboard and monitor clients. The agency also will help Waze develop new ad formats and further improve the ads’ functionalities, said Sanja Partalo, svp, corporate strategy and digital development at WPP.

“We’re working together to think through and create best practices, from both creative and tech perspective, for how to leverage Waze’s ad formats and their platform as a whole. The goal is to deliver a better experience for drivers and a better experience for brands – more contextual, better targeted – than what is available today through traditional mediums such as radio and billboards,” Partalo said.

Waze has pitched its product as a billboard for phones, which can be “measurable and actionable” to its 115 million monthly active users. In December 2017, Suzie Reider a longtime YouTube marketing exec,  moved to Waze to serve as its head of national ad sales and help grow its business with agencies. Over the last nine months, Waze claims to have doubled its advertising business, growing from 15,000 small and medium-sized business in May 2018 to more than 30,000 today.

WPP plans to expand that clientele. Partalo said Waze’s ad product has “obvious opportunities” in quick service restaurants, gas stations and retail stores. She’s interested in growing the business for other brands that traditionally thrive as impulse buys when going in-store, given the decline of foot traffic to stores along with the rise of curbside pickups.

“The impulse-buy moments are disappearing. Everyone intuitively understands that if you go to Target you’re going to end up buying items you didn’t want to, or even think to buy, because you’re going to discover something. Many product categories live and die by these moments. But, when people go on Amazon, they’re largely executing their list. The interesting piece for us is how do we take that somewhat passive mindset that people have in their car and deliver an impulse nudge?” Partalo said.

Waze ads have proven to be effective and cheap. Ads start at $2 per day for a business advertising one location, according to a pitch deck obtained by Digiday last May. That pricing is still the same, a Waze spokesperson said. The pricing model for local ads and for larger brands is cost-per-impression. Waze also touted in that pitch deck that advertisers see a 33 percent increase in navigations to their stores via Waze ads.

Though, the ads aren’t always welcomed by users. One Waze user told Digiday they frequently get ads for McDonald’s coffee over their morning commute in Los Angeles, despite their lack of desire for McDonald’s. Another user also griped about receiving unwanted Taco Bell ads. A third user said they received ads for gas stations that aren’t the closest or least expensive one to them and therefore is ineffective.

“We don’t want to heavy-handed because a car is a sacred ground to many. It’s an intimate environment. We know what the in-car canvas is but we are just beginning to explore what is appropriate, what is helpful and what would be well received. It’s very important to get it right,” Partalo said.

The advertising could be improved through more personalization. Despite being owned by Google, Google and Waze are separate on the backend. Advertisers cannot target Waze users based on their Google data. Instead, they are limited to the time of day, destination, traffic and weather-based targeting. Of course, that could change as Waze continues to grow its ad business.

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