Hyperlocal advertising on the Tube

February 13, 2017

Display ,


Towards the end of November last year, Transport for London (TfL) undertook an interesting, yet slightly controversial trial into our movements throughout the tube.

To do this, they tracked our phones – which makes sense. We’ve got our phones on us at all times, so tracking them would give TfL vital insights into the flow of movement throughout the tube network that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Why is this exciting for brands?

The trial represented an interesting opportunity for us, as marketers. We’re big fans of hyperlocal data and we’d like to see more of it become available. As Lesley Duncan pointed out in her Display Predictions for 2017, hyperlocal data for display marketing could be an absolute revolution and really become the Next Big Thing in that channel.

TfL were able to use the tracked data to discover what routes travellers took, on what lines, and when. From an advertising point of view, this is gold dust. Marketers will be able to determine where travellers live and how much footfall they can expect on a particular piece of advertising. It’d also allow marketers to create hyperlocal campaigns, based around travelling routes.

However, the more interesting data is the local data from each station. TfL was able to not only track the phones across the whole network, but they could also track locations in individual stations. This allowed them to create very informative heatmaps of each station, like this.

Euston Heatmap

For marketers, this is a dream. If we know where a consumer stands, we’ll be able to tell if they’ve seen a particular piece of advertising on the tube. This could then allow us to serve up display advertising to these consumers on their mobile in real-time, this would help with brand recall, from dual touch points – which is almost like seconding screening for TV, which should result in an increased CTR. Really the applications for this data are nearly limitless, and would definitely have huge ramifications.

This data could also really help brands get a clearer insight into how offline and online advertising work together. This has been something that brands have struggled to match up for some time, so if there is an insight into how the two channels work together, this could really help brands monetise their advertising budgets and adopt more integrated tactical campaigns.

When will brands get access to this data?

TfL is under an increasing amount of financial pressure. Sadiq Khan has frozen fares until 2020 at least, meaning that there is no way to increase the amount of money they bring in. There’s no extra space available for outdoor advertising, so giving brands the opportunity to access this data could open up an incredibly profitable new revenue stream for TfL, something TfL may desperately need if Mayor Khan’s plans for an expanded service are to be believed. The collected data has been valued at hundreds of millions of pounds, proving the true value of it. So the real question here is not ‘Will the data be released?’ but ‘When?’

London underground tube map data

Unfortunately, nobody really knows the answer. It largely depends on the consumer reaction to having data tracked. As we previously said, the initial study was quite controversial. However, it does seem that TfL is trying to change this consumer perception. They included a section in the study about customer perceptions of tracking, and revealed that customers are okay with sharing data if they’re making an “informed decision”. But we’ll have to wait and see whether this boils down to a public awareness campaign about data tracking, although a series of flyers about how TfL uses data seems more likely.

It’ll likely be a few years before we actually get access to this data, but we’d love to see it utilised. We’re huge geeks for hyperlocal data, and creating cross-platform display advertising on both outdoor digital displays and digital devices would be incredible – so we’re keeping our fingers crossed! Want to know if anything changes? Sign up to our weekly newsletter below to stay informed.

To find out what other knowledge was gleaned from the TfL tracking study, check out Gizmodo’s complete roundup.

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