At Verdens Gang (VG) we have been experimenting with offering location-based advertisements in our VG app.

The goal is to deliver relevant advertisements to the users at the right time and in the right place. Smartphones have provided the opportunity to serve more relevant information based on a user’s current physical location or locations previously visited.

There are different ways of identifying the location of a user. The green triangle in the diagram above displays the accuracy of the location technology used, and the blue triangle displays the reach of that technology.

So a location determined from IP addresses has a high reach but isn’t very accurate. iBeacon solution using Bluetooth technology has high accuracy, but relatively few users have Bluetooth turned on and are in the vicinity of an iBeacon.

Modern browsers have a geo-location API for determining the current location of a user. Users, however, have to accept location sharing every time the browser wishes to look up the users location. An app, on the other hand, only needs to ask for the permission once.

Current browsers do not support bluetooth/iBeacons, so to take advantage of Bluetooth and GPS location sharing we have to first get our users to use our app and secondly turn on location sharing.

Why should the user use our app?

The app has to deliver a better user experience than the mobile Web site, whether it’s because of offline content, localised content, the convenience of being always logged in, or just an overall better user experience.

Why should the user turn on location sharing?

Users need a reason for allowing an app to turn on location tracking. Whether because it’s more relevant and less annoying advertisements that can save them time and money, localised and relevant content, or a weather forecast at their location. Users need to believe that sharing personal information about their location will give them functionality that is worth the trade-off.

To improve the chances of our users sharing their location with the app on iOS devices, we display a pre-system dialog, asking the user to turn on both push notifications and location sharing in the app.

This pre-systems dialogue allows us to explain to the user why we would like them to share their location and turn on push notifications. It also gives us a chance to ask them several times before presenting them with the system dialog, as outlined in the TechCrunch article “The right way to ask users for iOS permissions.”

Privacy concerns

The consent of the user is required to track a user’s location in the background. Our job is to convince users to share their location with us. To do this we must be open about how we use this information and give users an easy way to both refuse and turn off location sharing.

Privacy concerns are a real concern for users. In a recent survey, 84% of Americans said they want to have control over what marketers can learn about them online.

Location sharing in the VG app is an opt-in feature, and the location information is encrypted. It’s not associated to a specific user, and the data is not sold to any third parties. The user can disable location sharing at any time.

Pilot project

Using technology from our partner Glimr, we are currently running a location-based ad pilot project in conjunction with Unacast, Coca-Cola, and CAPA, a Norwegian cinema chain.

The goal for the cinema is to:

  1. Sell more snacks at the cinema.

  2. Increase the number of returning customers to the cinema.

We have installed iBeacons within one of the CAPA cinemas and created a GEO-fenced area around the cinema. Users who have the VG app installed who enter the GEO fenced area or are within 50 meters of the iBeacon located within the cinema will be added to a cinema audience segment based on this specific location.

The users receive an offer of a free Coke within the VG app while they are at the cinema and are presented with new offers at later dates; for example, at home when surfing the VG app, they are presented with an advertisement for two cinema tickets for the price of one.

This is VGs first experiment with location-based advertisements, and it’s too early to share the results of the pilot project with you.

Companies like Facebook and Google are leading the way in offering location-based content, services, and targeted advertisements. Facebook has even started to give out free Facebook beacons to businesses.

Users are slowly but somewhat reluctantly beginning to accept the trade-off between sharing private information with receiving free products and more relevant content. Tim Cook was recently very critical of other companies’ approaches to data privacy and security, with Apple taking the approach that users should be in control of their own data.

Media companies need to be extra transparent about the data they collect and how it is used if they are to maintain their role as a trusted source of information.