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PR thoughts: Shining beacon of light or more irritation to come?

What’s your take on digital advertising? Are you already amongst the growing number of web browsers using ad blockers, or do you appreciate the efforts of professionals and their tech when it comes to targeting online commercials especially for you?

It’s a debate that’s been going on for longer than anyone working in PR cares to remember, certainly before we started using terms like Big Data. And, as functionality, and the ability for brands to capture more information about their customers- and potential customers- gets ever more advanced, this subject is only going to become more of a talking point.
The idea of beacons is nothing new, either. Put simply, these devices are very much in the physical world, but connect with people through the digital sphere (excuse the painful turns of phrase). We’re talking about walking into a shop and receiving mobile information on the latest deals and offers based on your previous purchasing decisions. Or passing a restaurant that can communicate with your iPhone to entice you with its menu, with that contact made possible because of details already stored about your food preferences.
It’s like something from Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report– or the Tom Cruise blockbuster of the same name. Because it is. For some time, though, this has really been a case of potential rather than widespread practice- implementation has largely been lacking. Instead, direct targeting has mainly been done through GPS, which gives a less accurate picture of where an individual is. According to a recent report in The Drum, though, things could be about to take a significant step forward.
Two firms- Opera Mediaworks and Unicast, have struck up a partnership. Opera’s clients are advertisers and publishers. Unicast deals with data from 40 of the planet’s biggest proximity providers- those pulling information from beacons. Previously, this has been used to target individuals ‘in the moment’, if used at all, as they browse shelves or racks.
The proposal now is for that information to have more longevity- i.e. it can be used for some time after the person leaves the premises. What this could potentially mean is more direct-to-consumer messages, more alerts, more bells, notifications and whistles in your pocket. But as the public grows increasingly aware of just how much of what they see, read and here is marketing- the growing malaise surrounding Facebook ads being a prime example- is this one step too far in terms of intrusion on the part of brands?
We’re not sure. Clearly the opportunities this presents are exciting, to say the least, and in the best case scenario this could help reduce the feeling of being unnecessarily approached with irrelevant products- targeting with beacons is, in the ideal world, far more precise. But you can’t help but feel those improvements need to come sooner, rather than later- before we’ve all had our fill already, and can bare the brunt of the tech-commerce onslaught no more.

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