Geo-fencing: Too close for comfort?

Take a moment and think about the last ads you saw on your mobile. Did you find them intrusive? Did you find them interesting? Did you even notice them at all?

Personally, I don’t normally see mobile ads as invasive. However, through my discussions in the Digital Marketing MOOC, I found that some participants thought of mobile ads as invasions of privacy. They predicted that the public would reject these ads because they viewed their mobile phones as such personal objects. Although I disagreed, their opinions do have merit. A Pew Research study found 46% of smartphone users claim they cannot live without their phones (2015) and another study reported that participants experienced anxiety when separated with their iPhones (Clayton et al., 2015). Mobiles as an extra limb, perhaps?

Regardless, we can’t deny the opportunity it creates for marketers. 93% of UK adults own a mobile that they use for around two hours each day (Ofcom, 2015).

pa_mapTo fill this channel, one of the most direct (and potentially invasive) forms of mobile marketing used is geo-fencing. First, businesses create a “fence” around an area. The business knows once you’ve enter their fence through the GPS on your phone. They can then send you offers when you’re nearby as incentive to shop with them. But how do you feel about companies knowing your location at any given moment?

While this strategy may seem intrusive if retailers begin sending too many ads (Mobile Commerce Press, 2015), it turns out the majority of people don’t actually mind sharing their location if it results in more pertinent offers (Amodwala, 2014). A case study with ASDA proved this method to be quite successful as well. Ads sent to mobiles within a certain radius resulted in a 67% increase in store visits (xAd).

Personally, I am with the majority on this issue. I do not see geo-fencing as too intrusive. In my opinion, the relevancy it provides outweighs my need for privacy. Before moving to Southampton, I often used a navigation app called Waze. I was on a long trip and wanted to stop for food, but I didn’t know the area well enough to find a place on my own. Before I had the chance to open Yelp to find somewhere to go, Waze displayed an ad for a sushi restaurant two miles away. Because of the timing and relevance of the ad, I not only “fell” for the geo-fencing strategy, but I was also grateful that it made my decision that much easier.

Do you see geo-fencing as intrusive? Do you see it more as a risk or opportunity for marketers?


Amodwala, Juhi (2014) Mobile Marketing Using Geolocation Targeting. Available from: [Accessed 12 November 2015].

Almond, A., Clayton, B., Leshner, G. (2015) The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication. 20 (2). Pages 119 – 135. Available from: [Accessed 12 November 2015].

Mobile Commerce Press (2015) Intrusive Mobile Marketing Boosts Suspicions Among French Shoppers. Available from: [Accessed 12 November 2015].

Ofcom (2015) The Communications Market 2015. Available from: [Accessed 12 November 2015].

Smith, Aaron (2015) U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015. Available from: [Accessed 12 November 2015].

xAd (Date unavailable). ASDA Case Study. Available from: [Accessed 12 November 2015].

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