Image credit: George Morgan

Hyundai had a problem: it was falling out of consideration when people went to car dealerships because, the company believed, consumers thought its cars were “staid” and “cheap”.

As a result, sales were suffering.

To conquer this, a campaign codenamed “Dealer Stealer” was created. The process digitally mapped 115 Mazda, 282 Toyota, and 152 Hyundai dealerships across Australia and involved drawing a squiggly digital line around the perimeters of the identified car dealerships, in a practice known as “geofencing”. These lines were then overlaid onto a map that was then able to “connect” with the smartphones of people who visited the dealers.

Those who came into proximity of its rival’s stores had their “unique and anonymous” device IDs collected, allowing the display of Hyundai advertising deals on the smartphones of people who were in the market for a Mazda or Toyota.

Designed by global media agency Initiative, mobile solutions agency Ansible and Sydney-based ad-tech firm Snakk Media, it was designed to “steal” customers away from Hyundai’s rivals.

Exactly how the ads were displayed and users’ location data collected was not listed in the Interactive Advertising Bureau handbook used to highlight the case study to the Australian ad industry, on Ansible’s web page explaining the ad (for which it and its partners have won numerous awards for), nor in a video uploaded by Ansible. It is, however, typical for this to be done via ad exchange networks, which are used by common free apps that consumers use.

The campaign attracted 815,000 unique eyeballs viewing the ad, according to the case study, with 41,000 people “reconsidering Hyundai as an option.” It also saw its “click-through-rate” — that’s when users actually click an ad — punching 50% above the industry average.

In order to track the campaign’s effectiveness and serve further ads, the location of users’ mobiles were “monitored, identifying if they later appeared in a Hyundai dealerships and re-targeting them again” with mobile ads, according to the handbook. “This allowed targeted advertising to people who were physically in or had been into a competitive dealership.”

Telstra-backed location Near, which also deals with location data, provides a similar example in a YouTube video, where it showed gas and oil company Shell luring customers away from the service stations of an unnamed competitor in the Philippines using the same geo-fencing technique combined with “real-time” user location data.

The Telstra-backed company claimed that it increased foot traffic to Shell service stations by 14% by showing users an in-app ad containing the distance to the nearest Shell outlet.

In another YouTube video, Near stated that it was able to collect location information due to a partnership with over 300,000 apps globally, 4000 of which are available in Australia. In the same video, uploaded in 2016, it also boasted that it had mapped over 15 million unique mobile devices’ IDs in Australia, totalling 60% of all mobile devices in the country.

An impressive 4 billion location data “pings” were also recorded from Australians’ phones, with devices pinging their geo-location data back to Near between 200-300 times per month.

Near also touted in the 2016 video the fact that it has mapped over 1.5 million points of interest in Australia, meaning it has drawn a squiggly geo-fence line around their perimeter and attached certain labels to the locations, allowing for marketers to target ads with precision.

In Australia, Near marketing material shows it has worked with brands including Woolworths, Renault, Telstra, McDonald’s, Vodafone and Ikea, among others.

Mobile location and behavioural advertising company Blis also explains on its website examples of how it is able to target users by location. In one instance, it was able to identify and target audiences seen in proximity to phone shops stocking Sony smartphones. Once users got home and connected to wi-fi, it was able to then retarget them with ads. Similar to the Shell service station case, it experienced a 13.75% increase in foot traffic in certain stores as a result.

All the while, consumers are unwittingly aware of how the data is collected.

And, as pointed out by recent Fox News and News Corp reports, location tracking can add up — Google alone is estimated to be collecting location data using as much as $580 million worth of Australians’ phone plan data annually to track users’ movements. This comes from an estimate made by Oracle that Google is draining roughly one gigabyte of mobile data monthly from Android phone users’ accounts as it collects location data in the background to help you (and advertisers). It can even report to advertisers how often online ads have led to store visits.

Google also can track user locations when they put on aeroplane mode and take out the SIM, Oracle has claimed. Google has not denied this, simply stating that its users can see what data is collected and how it’s used in their My Account, “and control it”. A spokesperson told News Corp that location sharing was opt-in and that Oracle’s demo was “sleight of hand”.