Billboards are being used to track you
One of America's largest media companies just unrolled a program that could use tens of thousands of billboards across the country to help track people and their shopping habits.
On Monday morning, Clear Channel Outdoor—a subsidiary of iHeartMedia, which is owned by Bain Capital, the investment firm co-founded by Mitt Romney—announced Radar, a data analytics tool that advertisers can use to collect information on people driving past their billboards. This could potentially be used on the tens of thousands of Clear Channel-owned billboards across the country.
To execute this Big Brother-ish strategy, Clear Channel aggregates tracking data to create consumer profiles that helps advertisers create targeted ads. Companies that use Radar will have a better understanding of what demographics pass by their billboards and where they go next.
To build the Radar program, Clear Channel partnered with three data-collection entities. AT&T Data Patterns uses GPS data track the location of AT&T subscribers and mobile analytics company PlaceIQ collects location data from mobile apps that share data with third parties and blends that with other purchased data, like census information. But the data that is most helpful for advertisers is collected by the analytics company Placed, another analytics company that tracks users who download its app, and compensates them for taking surveys about shopping activity.
"As for what happens after an audience segment group passes a billboard ad, through our partner, Placed, there are 500,000 consumers who have opted into having their locations mapped by the provider," Jason King, a Clear Channel spokesperson, told Vocativ. "And in exchange for that access, these consumers are financially compensated by the data provider for taking surveys on their mobile phones that ask things such as, 'Did you see the billboard, if so, what did you do after seeing it?'"
But as for those whose data is collected through the other two entities, AT&T Data Patterns and Place IQ—they are not compensated or made aware that they are contributing to the Radar program.
Andy Steven, Clear Channel Outdoor's senior vice president for research and insight, told The New York Times that all this data collection can help advertisers determine "what the average viewer of that billboard looks like" and admits that the service "does sound a bit creepy"—even though it's not much different than the targeted mobile and internet ads that have existed for years thanks to third-party apps that collect data.
But King doesn't think anyone should worry about billboards that spy on us. "I hope this doesn't disappoint, but the billboards do not have eyes, nor do they have technology to see you," he said. "Only the data providers, who have direct relationships with their own consumers, have access to a customer's personal information and travel patterns. The data providers categorize their consumers into groups of audience segments, such as 'soccer moms, NBA fans, etcetera.'"
According to King, Clear Channels partners can determine when these soccer moms and NBA fans come near a billboard. Advertisers can then use this data to plan targeted campaigns. In fact, one company already has.
Toms Shoes used Radar to determine how well its outdoor ads are working. The footwear brand found that people who passed by Toms billboards were 122 percent more likely to tell their friends about Toms, 43 percent more likely to look the company up online and 44 percent more likely to make a Toms purchase.
Radar is now available in 11 cities, but advertisers will be able to use it across the country by the end of the year. The data-driven future is upon us. And there's no escaping it.