In the advocacy space, geofencing is a popular go-to buzzword for online advertising, but does it really work? I’m skeptical and think companies, coalitions, and organizations would be better served allocating their resources differently.
It certainly works in the sense that it makes decision makers and clients feel clever and you’ll usually be able to get a reporter to write about it.
But using geofencing in an attempt to narrowly target a small group of people – or even an individual – betrays a lack of understanding for the underlying technology and how advertising works generally.
Ads work (assuming the creative is effective) with repetition. Familiarly begets favorability. Seeing an ad just once isn’t going to change a mind. In fact, seeing an ad a hundred times isn’t going to change a mind that isn’t susceptible to persuasion on a given issue. A die-hard Democrat, for example, isn’t going to vote for the Republican candidate no matter how many times she sees a TV ad. But advertising works because over a broad swath of our target audience there are enough persuadable people.
So even setting aside the technological capacity of geo-targeted online advertising, we can see on its face that this type of narrow targeting simply doesn’t work because we’re not reaching enough persuadable people often enough.
Let’s now turn to the tech.
None of the methods used to target a user’s location are 100% accurate. Depending on the platform, an advertiser can target a user based on information that they provide when signing up for a service, such as an address, city or ZIP code. A user can be targeted based on the IP address they are using to connect to the Internet. And most precisely, a user can be targeted based on device info.
Each of these methods has its flaws, which means you’ll get people in the area who aren’t targets but more troublesome, excessively narrow targeting may exclude the audience you actually want to reach.
So while it may sound clever in theory, in practical execution, geofencing to go after narrow groups of people isn’t actually an effective use of online advertising for issue advocacy or political efforts.
More importantly, “geofencing” as a tactic falls short because effective marketing must be permission based and focused on establishing relationships and organizing communities. A poorly executed online advertising campaign isn’t up to the task.
Your best alternatives that will actually move the needle in measurable ways are email and organic social media. With an email, I know exactly who received a message, when they received it and how many times it was viewed. It’s everything advertisers hope geofencing could be.