Proximity Marketing: Too Close for Comfort?

As mentioned in some of my previous posts (here and here), I believe that technology is converging with reality to create a hybrid form which lays the seemingly infinite capabilities of communications technology on top of an existing, physical environment; this convergence is leading to an array of exciting and creative opportunities for advertising and marketing practitioners. One opportunity that I believe is far from reaching fruition yet is the concept of ‘proximity marketing’. This is a “localised wireless distribution of advertising content associated with a particular place” allowing advertisers to target consumers when they are in reach of their product business [1].

Cliquemedia suggest that Bluetooth and other forms of proximity marketing is “absolutely non-intrusive, as it requires an opt-in” format [2]. However, because of this, users would have to have their Bluetooth on constantly which drains battery life and most organisations even suggest switching it off to “save power” which seems to thwart the marketing potential almost instantly and irrevocably [3]). Cliquemedia also state that the following on their website:

“A global mobile advertising study conducted by media agency Universal McCann revealed that users were more receptive when they received free content from advertisers. Of the 9,500 people polled across 21 countries, 72% voted in favour of Bluetooth formats being the best form of advertising” [4]

This study does inform the argument that proximity marketing would be a viable and valuable asset for advertising practitioners to utilise but it seems to better justify the production of free, branded content more than push notifications into mobiles that may or may not be wanted by the consumer.

I believe that the only difference between this and traditional forms of ‘Junk E-mail’ is that consumers will be in the locality of the business/product when they receive a message. This, however, does not necessarily confirm that they have any interest in the product, merely that they are in a similar location.

A number of ethical and moral debates arise as a result of this form of marketing. One example is the discussion as to whether it is objectionable to have a ubiquitous technology which has the potential to target children. Many would argue that it is wrong to target the impressionable with advertising messages on their mobile devices and the codes and conduct surrounding advertising to children are particularly strict.

A second issue occurring proximity marketing is that it may have a negative effect on brand identity with consumers feeling that certain organisations are pressurising them by sending marketing literally into their pockets.

To an extent, this form of marketing is prevalent across the majority smart phones handsets in the form of Vouchercloud: a digital voucher discount platform using geo-location technology to show the best deals and offers from brands and businesses in the users locality [5]. However, an integral element of this involves user interaction in order to scour through available options and make informed decisions as opposed to receiving notifications without prior request.

I believe that proximity marketing could be extremely useful for both brand and consumer if users could pre-select certain types of information they would wish to receive and only be sent offers relating to their interests. Perhaps another interesting way of doing this would be to integrate proximity marketing with Facebook ‘Interests’ and ‘Likes’ as the content would be more useful for consumers. Further, Facebook are already involved with a similar advertising initiative involving their much talked about ‘Places’ tool. Users can use geo-location technology on their mobile devices to ‘tag’ themselves in areas around the world to update their friends on where they are. This has recently been used by marketers to create personalised advertisements called ‘Sponsored Stories’ [6][7]; friend activity is combined with advertisements to target users directly through their links and connections. Oh, and by the way, Facebook has stated that “there is no way to opt out of seeing all or being features in any Sponsored Stories” [8][9]. You are going to be used to sell Starbucks. Hope that’s ok?

So is proximity marketing too close for comfort or something that advertisers can harness both creatively and strategically that will benefit us as consumers as well? My personal view is that proximity marketing on mobile devices still has a way to go ethically and technologically before it can be used as a viable form in a marketeers toolbox. The benefits seem to be exciting for all parties concerned if a balance can be achieved concerning privacy although, given the state of privacy on the internet as it currently stands, is this really something to worry about? Is it anything much worse than the lack of privacy we have online? Jeff Jarvis argues that “we are sharing because it brings benefit [10]; a valid point that promotes an optimistic view of the internet that, a few weeks ago, I shared almost completely.

However, upon recently digging through readings and ideas associated with digital communications, my views are more akin to those of rival theorist, Andrew Keen, who simply states that “sharing is a trap” [11] and views it as the loss of one’s sense of self.



2. (Services > Mobile > Proximity Marketing)


4. Marketing VOX, 20th August 2007 (via









One thought on “Proximity Marketing: Too Close for Comfort?

  1. Pingback: Data Mining and the Targeting Paradox « Paul Martin's Blog

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