When Digital Gets A Little Creepy


(By Curt Kraft) It is safe to say that radio has embraced the digital age. I know, I know. More stuff for the sales department to deal with. UGH! More coffee, please. Anyway, we supposedly now have more ways for our clients to advertise in addition to the traditional over-the-air audio method. This will ultimately result in increased business for the client and increased advertising revenue for the station. In turn this will lead to increased commissions for the salespeople and raises for the air personalities. OK OK. Just kidding. Strike that last sentence.

But it does lead to a rather interesting question. Do these new digital methods of advertising really work? Are they truly creating new business for the client over and above what’s going out over the air? How is this measured? And who does the measuring? Call me old fashioned, even old school. But I’d like to know in advance that my client is getting an effective method for advertising their business. I don’t want to just dazzle them with new terminology while I’m secretly crossing my fingers behind my back.

Now, to be fair, I’ve done my own research. I have read many articles on the subject. There are some who say that digital is a very effective way of advertising. That it reaches out to an additional audience that might not be paying close attention to those spots you’re running over the air. That it might even bring in totally new customers who spend most of their time on their smart phones or laptops. These people who speak out in favor of digital advertising do make a compelling point.

However, there are those who say it only works marginally at best. It’s all right to try it but still use the more traditional methods of advertising because we know “they” work. Still, there are others who say it doesn’t work at all. That digital advertising is pure bunk and you shouldn’t waste your money on it. For me, the jury is still out. But there is one form of digital advertising that I do find kind of creepy. I’d go so far as to call it Orwellian with a dash of “big brother.” They call it “geofencing.” (Insert ominous background music here.)

Geofencing, in layman’s terms, is when you go out with your smart phone on, either walking or in your car, and one of your apps alerts a local business that you are in the neighborhood. That business then sends you a message letting you know about their big sales promotion and since you’re “in the area” why not stop by and check them out? The question is, how does the average person feel about this? Do they realize their smart phone can be used as a tracking device? Do they mind suddenly getting an ad on their phone? Do they shake their head and wonder how the business knows that they are close by? And by “close” we could mean a few blocks or a few miles. That’s the beauty of geofencing. As a business, you set your own boundary as to how far you want to track potential customers. In other words, you the customer have now become a blip on someone else’s screen. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

This kind of advertising makes me a little uneasy. If they know where you are on their screen, what else do they know? Do they know that sometimes when I go to the mall I’m just there to use the rest room? And then I get back in the car and I leave without buying anything? What will happen the next time I go to the mall? Will a security guard come out and ask me if I intend to do any shopping or am I just here to go to the bathroom? In which case you are barred from this mall. I know that sounds paranoid. But hey, there are still some of us who sleep with a night light. Do businesses really want to advertise via such a cloak and dagger method? Do I really want to offer this new “digital” method of advertising to a potential client? Yes, I know the digital age is here to stay. I just don’t know if radio should embrace every aspect of it. A constant, steady flow of revenue is important. But send your salespeople out to get it, not Mulder and Scully.


  1. Your premise that geofencing may be a little creepy is an opinion that is shared by many, including myself.

    But I do want to correct you on your explanation of what geofencing is to the layman. You have simply identified one application of how geofencing might be utilized for marketing purposes; however, that is not what geofencing is. Geofencing is a feature in a software program that uses the global positioning system (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define geographical boundaries.

    I believe that a clear understanding of what something is can eliminate fears/uneasiness about a given matter.

    As the above commenter has stated, local clients are eating this type of advertising up. SMB’s are seeing the fruits of eliminating wasted ad spend by not delivering – what many radio groups call added value – advertising to areas where it is highly unlikely that their best prospects will not reside. Sales reps all across the country will tell their clients that they are getting added value in addition to reaching their target audience…but this is misleading as they spot is the exact same for every client no matter where they may be located within a DMA or market.

    Geofencing/Geotargeting is allowing many businesses to identify a boundary in which they feel that it no longer serves them to spend money marketing to people – who in all likelihood – will not become a customer.

    And thanks to this capability, many radio groups are able to offer a better metric for Return on Ad Spend to their clients. Just as geofencing can serve advertisements to mobile devices that have enter a predefined space, this same technology can identify the number of devices that enter said space AFTER having received an ad.

    Ex. A local McDonald’s geofences it’s own building. That business runs a display advertising campaign online. Individuals who click OR see the ad are then identified. Those same individuals then show up to the McDonald’s 2 weeks later to make a purchase. The McDonald’s can then measure the exact number of devices that then crossed into the geofence. If the business knows its conversion rates and average purchase value, they can identify if the campaign was a success based on projected profit. (How much they spent on the geofencing campaign versus how many people showed up on site)

  2. Is geo-fencing more creepy than Facebook knowing more about what interests you, where you go and what you choose to like, share and engage with?
    Maybe there’s a difference between “selling” something and just being absorbed into the digital world willingly through your daily interactions with Google, FB and Amazon. Those three have so much data on us that they market it to us so seamlessly that it often goes unnoticed.

    So, is geo-fencing for a client that much different or is it that we can participate in the whole digital process that is making you scratch your head?

    Local clients are buying these products. Borrell’s research clearly shows that. As an industry we owe it to our clients to help them find the right solutions and in some cases (not all) geo-fencing is a tactic that has proven to work.


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