Marketers bet big on location-based advertising

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SALT LAKE CITY — In the advertising world, tailoring the message to the intended target is key. Today's hot marketing trend is tapping into the location services built into a smartphone.

"We're using them in the car, at dinner, when we're buying," said Elle Wheeler, digital marketing manager for Love Communications. "Advertisers absolutely want to capture that audience in the moment, and that's on our smartphones."

Ninety percent of Americans have cellphones, according to the Pew Research Center. The same tech that kicks in instantly for turn-by-turn navigation is opening new doors for marketers. When users download an app and opt-in to the terms of service, presto, advertisers have their whereabouts.

Cellphone ubiquity a boon for marketers

"It's helping us reach out to consumers and interact with them in meaningful ways," said Matt Asay, Adobe's vice president of mobile.

At Adobe's home base in Lehi, the company is best known for Photoshop is helping chart mobile's future. But with time and Adobe's help, look for smartphones to get smarter.

"No one wants spam, that's why it is a balancing act; a marketer can think more is better," Asay said. "But the reality is it's far better to talk to them at an opportune time."

Wheeler agrees.

"What consumers are not happy about is when they're inundated with messages that they don't want," she said. "What I think we have to do as advertisers and marketers is make sure we're very clear about what we're doing and how we're doing it so people don't feel violated."

Mobile accounts for 60 percent of America's digital media time, according to the marketing data analytics company Comscore. It's local search that Comscore says has led mobile's surge in recent months.

What consumers are not happy about is when they're inundated with messages that they don't want. What I think we have to do as advertisers and marketers is make sure we're very clear about what we're doing and how we're doing it so people don't feel violated.

–Elle Wheeler, Love Communications

Advertisers have targeted three tech advances to reach the booming mobile market.

Geo-fencing: A virtual white picket palisade

Geo-fences are hidden white picket fences that set virtual borders. They let businesses know when potential customers pass by a store.

Companies can send instant deals that light up on a person's phone to draw him or into nearby shops and restaurants. These deals pop up with notifications from apps, in social media accounts — even in the news sites a particular person browses.

"We're carrying around the Internet all day long, every day," Asay said. "Companies have the ability to measure what you're doing and where you're going."

Beacons: A lighthouse of pinpoint tracking and data accumulation

Inside a venue, GPS tracking falters. As GPS penetrates walls, it loses accuracy, so stores have turned to beacons for pinpoint shadowing, upping GPS accuracy. The beacons are small transmitters that send out continuous radio signals, giving stores hyper-specific bread crumbs of your every in-store move.

With a smartphone in hand and beacons strategically scattered through a store, companies know exactly where you stopped to shop and for how long, and what you quickly strolled by.

Stores can use this information to help optimize how customers move through their physical spaces. Instead of having a vague idea where the congested places are or making a guess about merchandise placement, retailers now have real-time data to test and refine.

In-store Wi-Fi: Stores tapping your shoulder with virtual deals

When a person logs on to free Wi-Fi, marketers can begin tempting him or her with targeted promotions. Adobe calls this technology intelligent location marketing.

The New York Times said in an article that Americans redeemed over 3 billion coupons in 2009. The pervasiveness of location-based advertising and mobile phones may one day make this an antiquated practice.

"How many times have we had a coupon come via email, traditional mail or we've seen something on TV and then we get there, we totally forget about it?" Wheeler said. "Advertisers, we benefit because we're able to deliver a targeted message to you, right when you want to use it."

Know the smartphone settings
Always giving people the ability to opt-out of mobile tracking services is a "cardinal rule" at Adobe, according to Matt Asay, Adobe's vice president of mobile.

"We feel very strongly about that at Adobe, that the customer should have the choice to say, 'I'm out,' " Asay said. "I think over time, we as customers will become much smarter about it."

"As consumers, we control that," Wheeler said. "The more familiar we are with the applications and our cellphones, the more we can use the cellphone to benefit our lives, not muck up our lives."

"You can get pretty specific about where somebody is and what they might be interested in at a certain point in time," Asay said. "It sounds Jetson's futurist, but I think that's where we're going — where our phones and the brands inside our phones will be able to anticipate our needs."

Unseen advertising battlegrounds

Knowing where to find and how to turn on and off the "do not track" setting on mobile phones and tablets is vital. From the moment the location of a person's cellphone is detected a behind-the-scenes, unregulated bidding war begins for his or her data and attention.

Ads relevant to specific markets — like drug companies promoting asthma medications on bad air days in Salt Lake City — are targeting individuals, even on national media sites like

Cybersecurity expert: "As soon as you step on the Internet..."

For those a little creeped out technology's data-mining potential, KSL checked in with Dr. Matthew Might, a cybersecurity expert and University of Utah School of Computing professor.

"I think the average person is completely unaware of how much they're being watched," Might said. "As soon as you step on the Internet, they will start building (your) profile."

One-way advertisers do this is through cookies.

"Almost certainly the average person, if you ask them if they'll allow cookies, they're thinking chocolate chip," he said.

Might relies on a dynamic virtual private network to trick the marketers and advertisers. A dynamic VPN makes Might nearly untraceable. Minute-by-minute, Might's Internet-connected devices look like they are bouncing around from Sweden to Estonia to France and beyond.

Setting up a dynamic VPN might be a little much for most people: "I think for the average person they just want an ad blocker," Might said.

Might, though, was particularly concerned about the profiling of the elementary aged: "My kids, when they use devices, they clearly use them in do not track mode," he said.

What about the future of mobile and privacy?

The future looks like an arms race between those who want to track a person's every move and those seeking autonomy. On the horizon, emerging technology will let advertisers target a person again, long after he or she has logged off that free Wi-Fi.

So should one just throw his or her shiny new smartphone into the nearest pond?

"That will help," Might said. "If you throw your phone in a pond it's hard to figure out where you are at."

Torin Koos is an associate producer at KSL-TV who is stoked to write, film, and interview compelling people for stories that resonate with readers. Koos from the former logging and mill town of Leavenworth, Washington, in the Cascades, and he came to Utah to attend the University of Utah and ski for the Utes. This led to years trotting the globe and chasing Olympic dreams as part of USA Olympic team at the Salt Lake City, Torino, Vancouver and Sochi Games. Email Torin Koos at

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Torin Koos and Debbie Dujanovic


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