Why brands have to grasp context-aware advertising through mobile phones
A view from Russell Davies

Why brands have to grasp context-aware advertising through mobile phones

I spend quite a lot of time in a Derbyshire town called Belper. My parents live nearby. There's a nice little high street with one...

The local retailers are always struggling to prevent their customers driving to the big superstores in Derby, so they have one of those "shop local" campaigns going on. It’s quite well-supported but, being the annoying pedant that I am, I always end up thinking: I’m not local – I won’t shop until I get home. This, of course, is the problem with context-aware advertising. Your context isn’t just where you are and what you’re doing, it’s also who you are.

That’s why the phone is the holy grail for this stuff. It’s the one thing that stands a chance of knowing all these things – apart from, of course, the National Security Agency. And it’s why the device-makers might take the whole business off you.

Tim O’Reilly has written a fantastic little blog post called "Context aware programming", pointing out that loads of apps that should know a lot about you do very little with that information. AccuWeather on Android is said to be "otherwise a great app", letting you set up multiple locations that should be very handy for frequent travellers, but it inexplicably defaults to whichever location you set up first, regardless of where you are. "Not only does it ignore the location sensor in the phone, it doesn’t even bother to remember the last location I chose," O’Reilly notes.

Apps will get more intelligent. They will also be aided by technologies such as Apple's iBeacon

Apps will clearly get more intelligent. They will also be aided by technologies such as Apple’s iBeacon, a form of low-energy Bluetooth that makes accurate location possible indoors. Get that right and the things that come up in brainstorms will actually be possible. Walk by our cosmetics display and have our ad pop up on your phone! And there’s the sneaky stuff – visit the travel agents twice in one day and we’ll raise the prices on the second visit because we know you’re interested. It happens on the web – why wouldn’t it happen in the world?

The question, of course, is why would the device people let you do this? It will create an absolutely unbearable user experience and why would they let people create their own apps for this when they can charge them for access to some sort of locative promotional programme, which they will manage themselves? Context awareness is the holy grail – you may not get to touch it.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service