Ru Roberts, Waze: On non-distracting and privacy-conscious advertising

Ru Roberts, Waze: On non-distracting and privacy-conscious advertising Ryan is a senior editor at TechForge Media with over a decade of experience covering the latest technology and interviewing leading industry figures. He can often be sighted at tech conferences with a strong coffee in one hand and a laptop in the other. If it's geeky, he’s probably into it. Find him on Twitter (@Gadget_Ry) or Mastodon (

MarketingTech caught up with Ru Roberts, UK Country Manager for Waze, to discuss how the popular satellite navigation app advertises to drivers in a responsible manner.

As a free app, Waze relies on advertising. However, displaying ads to drivers could be a recipe for disaster.

Waze has faced its fair share of criticisms in the past for distracting drivers. Early users will remember things like messages from random drivers popping up constantly. Fortunately, Waze heard those concerns and the app has evolved considerably over the years.

In terms of advertising, partner businesses just appear as logos on the map. Detailed ads will only appear if the vehicle has been stationary for four seconds or more and those ads can now contain offers a driver could find actually useful.

“We feel that the ad platform serves very simple ad units which are about as native as you can get. Pins and arrows on the map are expected by the user when they’re using a map of any sort or navigation proposition,” says Roberts.

“Whether you see a McDonald’s sign or a Tesco badge or something like that on the map—it’s expected, and it’s adding direct value. The fact you can represent an offer locally at one of those businesses is adding value to the user as well.”

Every person is unique and what interests one may be irrelevant to another. At the same time, people are more concerned than ever about their privacy. It’s a difficult balance to strike—we asked Roberts how Waze is going about it.

“With elements of GDPR and these changes over the last 2-3 years taking effect, and the future of a cookie-less world, it’s really important that we can offer contextual value to drivers without imposing on their privacy,” explains Roberts.

Keeping that in mind, Waze keeps it relatively simple. The app will use location and take into account things like the time of day in order to deliver ads rather than personally identifiable information.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a new driver of 18 or a senior driver of 60+, you still want to have lunch,” says Roberts. “In effect, creating contextual targeting without invading too much on the actual individual person in that vehicle.”

While you can’t disable ads, part of what makes Waze great is its customisability. Want to turn your vehicle icon into a Warthog from the Halo video game series and get directions from its protagonist Master Chief? Go for it.

(Credit: Waze)

“You’re right to mention the Halo example, that’s part of our co-pilot program which allows us to really give a fun element to the drive without detracting from the drive itself,” explains Roberts.

“We offer that directly to advertisers as well, so that is a that is a kind of advertising proposition where you can change the vehicle or change the navigation voice to something particular. We’ve done that with a number of partners.”

As part of an event partnership with football club AS Roma, drivers were guided to the stadium by the voices of players. Suggested entrances to the Stadio Olimpico were also provided in addition to highlighting official club stores. It’s a great example of a campaign that offers clear benefits to everyone.

In 2022, Roberts says Waze will continue to find ways to improve its advertising proposition.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to improve and offer ad units that are beneficial to advertisers whilst not contradicting our core proposition—so not distracting drivers, but adding value on their routes in as native a form as possible,” says Roberts.

“We think we do a pretty good job of doing that.”

You can watch our full interview with Ru Roberts below:

(Photo by Sean D on Unsplash)

Related: Ru Roberts, Waze: On improving journeys using real-time data

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person? Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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