You walk into the grocery store and your smartphone beeps. “Welcome back,” it says. “There’s a sale on tomato sauce in aisle 6.”
You’re driving down the highway on your way to work. As you approach, a billboard changes to show an advertisement for your favorite coffee shop, two miles away. After you pass, the billboard switches to show a trailer for the new Disney movie, just as a school bus rounds the corner.
These scenarios sound like something out of the far future (insert obligatory Minority Report reference here), but they’re here now. Companies are using their customers’ locations to more accurately target ads toward them.
If done poorly, these “location-aware” ads can feel like a privacy violation. If done right, it’s a win-win: consumers appreciate receiving timely, relevant ads and deals right when they’re in the best position to buy.
Popular Shopping Apps Use Geo Location Targeting
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A Nielsen analysis of shopping apps named location-aware app Shopkick the fourth-most popular app, behind only eBay, Amazon, and Groupon. Apps like Shopkick provide valuable data for retailers and brands.
They learn more about their customers’ shopping habits and entice buyers back. And consumers get rewards, deals–or maybe just a map. That’s the pitch behind Aisle411, which works with Walgreens and a number of grocery chains.
“If you’ve ever been lost, wandering through a, for example, Home Depot store, trying to find a list of items you’re after,” Aisle411 is for you, says CEO Nathan Pettyjohn. “You pull out your phone and we show you an in-store map where you can find the product …. At the moment of truth, you’re in the store and you’re ready to buy … we can help you. We can communicate or influence your decision.”
That influence often comes in the form of complementary deals. If a user searches for directions to the pasta aisle, Aisle411 might pop up a notice that sauce, or Parmesan cheese, is on sale–along with directions to the neighboring aisle. Or if a user checks milk off her shopping list, an ad might pop up saying, “While you’re here, don’t forget eggs.”
While an in-store map and helpful coupons are great for consumers already in the store, what about brands that want to get their customers’ attention earlier?
Last year, GM filed a patent for a system that would serve targeted ads on digital billboards. In other words, the system should be able to determine that, for example, more than 50 percent of drivers on a certain road are heading to Myrtle Beach, S.C., so the billboard should display an ad for golf clubs or a restaurant.
The system might also be able to learn seasonal patterns. “Vehicles in the state of Michigan are more likely to travel to an apple orchard during the months of October and November than any other months,” the patent stated. So apple orchard ads might show up for cars leaving Michigan cities during those months.
Yes, apple orchards already know to advertise in the fall and companies marketing their services to tourists already buy billboard space along tourist routes. But the patent also describes technology to also determine the age and demographics of people in the car.
In other words, “Burma Shave” is out. Individual ads just for you–thanks to your smartphone, your car, and some savvy retailers–are in.