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Neil Sweeney: Marketing firm moves with the times

Neil Sweeney, founder of Juice Mobile.

Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail

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As a developing industry still in the throes of infancy, mobile marketing and advertising have come a long way in a short time, but for many it is still a misunderstood venture.

"People kind of look at you cross-eyed when you start telling them about mobile marketing, which is very popular now, but trust me when I tell you four years ago people looked at me like I was high," says Neil Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Juice Mobile.

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"I remember people saying to me, 'Oh, so you want to drive one of those trucks that have a rotating sign? Is that what mobile marketing is?'"

Seeing the need for mobile-specific expertise, the Toronto native founded his company four years ago, aiming to capitalize on the surge in popularity of smartphones and tablets, and enabling advertisers to project their messages to the fastest-growing medium. Research firm BI Intelligence recently projected that mobile will grow twice as quickly as any other advertising medium over the next five years.

"It seemed to me there was a big technical gap in understanding the uniqueness of mobile," the 39-year-old says.

"At my previous company, which was sold about three months before the start of Juice, we had worked with a number of big brands and publishers helping them craft applications and so we knew that inevitably online and mobile were fundamentally different, and if people really wanted to learn the nuances of mobile they needed somebody focused specifically on the space."

Juice Mobile took things one step further by developing Nectar, a technology that makes it simpler for companies to execute their marketing strategies in the mobile arena.

"It really just changes the way in which publishers and advertisers actually buy and sell media because it re-empowers them to take back control of their media from third-party companies like the Googles of the world," Mr. Sweeney adds.

The opportunities for advertisers to engage the mobile market are growing exponentially. Mobile ad spending in Canada is pegged at $326.5-million, according to eMarketer. That figure is expected to reach $2-billion by 2018, meaning that mobile will account for one in every four dollars spent on advertising in this country.

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"What's happening in the advertising space is that if you look historically at the difference between desktop and mobile now, there's commonalities for sure in that they've shared formats or they've shared the way in which ads looked," Mr. Sweeney says.

"They've also shared screens, so desktops have a screen, laptops have a screen, your phone has a screen and your tablet has a screen, but the reality is that mobile is moving away in many ways from the traditional screen to this idea of the IOT or the Internet of Things."

Juice Mobile, which employs about 55, is growing as the industry does, with Mr. Sweeney estimating that the company is adding about one new employee every week. It has offices in New York, San Francisco, Vancouver and Montreal, as well as Toronto. With the growth that he envisages in the mobile advertising space, it's hardly surprising.

"We look at desktop as sort of being legacy media so we're of the opinion that media is moving more and more toward mobile and that includes the majority of desktop impressions and the advertising dollar and the brand dollar typically follows where the eyeballs are," he says.

"It's proven already that clearly every consumer is sitting on top of their phones and as a result of that, the impressions that are actually growing in the mobile ecosystem are growing exponentially and that's only going to continue as phones get faster, more powerful and have more utility to them."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version  incorrectly referred to Juice Mobile as Juice Media in one reference.

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