Incorporating Geofencing into Your Campaign Advertising

by Sophie Thurber (She/Her)

campaign advertising black birds perching on a green fence

Campaign Advertising Harnessing Geofencing For Digital Ads

Whether you’re running a political campaign or an advocacy program, geofencing can be an incredibly useful tactic within your larger campaign advertising toolbox. Geofencing is a method of targeting mobile ads to people within a tight geographic area. Essentially, this means creating a virtual fence around an address and serving ads within that area. Instead of targeting a congressional, or even state house district, you’d set a radius around a particular address. In a political or advocacy context, you might target a state capital, voting locations, political conventions, or any other geographic location that a large percentage of your intended audience will be in.

Geofencing is also a good way to reach the right people in the right place and at the right time. For example, if you’re running an advertising program about student loan reform and want college students to take action, you may want to create a geo-fence around college campuses and layer that into a larger digital campaign that targets college-age adults with other behavioral attributes. We once ran a campaign to call out a health care company during the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. Since the company was a sponsoring partner of a sports arena, we served mobile ads to users within a radius of the arena during home games. We have also used it to surround legislative buildings in different states so we can be sure we’re gaining visibility with legislators and their staffs. 

Mobile geofencing can be done in a few different ways. Once you have given the address to your vendor (or added it to your Facebook targeting or DSP setup), they will create a circular radius or custom polygon around that location to create the fence. To receive ads, people in your audience must be in that fenced location and using an app on their smartphone with location data enabled. Once an audience member is captured within your geofence, most vendors can register their device ID to serve them ads when they are outside of the fence. Different platforms offer different targeting radiuses, so that’s something to bear in mind (and ask about) as you’re planning your campaign advertising.

It’s not uncommon to try to keep your targeting as tight as possible to try and make sure you’re only reaching your highest value targets, but to run any digital advertising campaign you still need to have a wide enough net to achieve scale. To keep your targeting as tight as possible while still running a successful campaign, you’ll need to balance the size of the fence itself, any demographic targeting you layer over the geofence, and how long you run your geofencing campaign.

Tips for Running a Successful Geofencing Advertising Campaign

1. Target a Densely Populated Area
Campaign advertising tactics’ efficacy often varies depending on geography and a variety of other factors. Geofencing is no different. These campaigns typically work best in cities and places with a large, concentrated population. Rural areas are harder to run geofencing campaigns in because it’s hard to get enough audience scale. Typically, we recommend removing other targeting parameters for a geofenced program, but the caveat here is that the size of your population will affect how much other targeting you can layer on top of the geofence, how long you’ll need to run the campaign to get results, and even how tight you can make the fence itself. For example, you could use a smaller radius for your fence in a place like New York City than you likely could in upstate New York. 

2. Keep the Rest of Your Targeting Broad (or Leave It Off Your Geofence Entirely)
Generally speaking, my recommendation on this is to make sure you have other campaign advertising line-items that carry your more specific targeting and keep the geofenced portion of your program broad to allow it to scale. This way, you avoid being over-narrow in your geofence and potentially missing the right targets entirely.

So, with that said, for any digital campaign advertising to work, you need to have a large enough audience to serve ads to. In a geofencing campaign, your audience is limited by the location and specific behaviors you need them to perform in order to be found within the fence. It’s best to keep the rest of your targeting, like demographics and voting history, pretty broad or your audience may be too small to reach. If your fence is in a densely populated area, you’re more likely to be able to layer on more demographic targeting and still have a large enough audience to run ads. You’ll also want to be aware of the likelihood of your target audience to be on smartphone apps. While most Americans have smartphones now, certain populations will be easier or harder to contact this way. For example, younger audiences with higher incomes are more likely to be reached this way.

3. Run Your Mobile Geofencing Campaign for Several Weeks
Obviously, the caveat on this is that context matters, and a longer timeline should make strategic sense for your campaign advertising and the address or event you’re geofencing. Generally, your audience size will improve the longer your campaign runs. This is because your audience is more likely to have used a location-enabled app on their phones AND to pass through your geofence if you give them more time to do so. If your campaign is running in a more densely populated area, you may not have to run it as long to get results, especially if that area has a high rate of smartphone usage. Or you might not have several weeks—maybe you’re targeting a protest or a sporting event and know that you’ll be targeting a large crowd for a very specific time frame. Talk to your ad buying partners/consultants about projections and how long the campaign will need to run to get to scale and run an appropriate number of impressions based on your overall goals. 

4. Customize Your Ads for Your Location
Since you’re targeting a small geographic location, you can add a sense of community and specialization to your creative. You might want to name the city or even neighborhood that your ads are serving within, to make it clear to your audience that your ad applies specifically to them. Running a good mobile geofencing campaign is always a balancing act between your geographic area, audience, and timing. 

Want to learn more about what you should be thinking about when it comes to campaign advertising and digital strategy? Check out 5 Things Every Campaign Should Be Doing Digitally for 2020.