How a Marketing Firm You’ve Never Heard of Knows Exactly Where You Shop and When

Tracking you with or without your consent?

InMarket knows when millions of people shop because it's integrated in 800 apps, including Epicurious and List Ease.
InMarket

“Snap into a Slim Jim,” Macho Man Randy Savage bellowed from TV sets during the 1990s as a pitch-perfect character for the meat stick brand. In an era when jerky was perceived by the American public as junk food, Slim Jim was a mainstay for adolescent boys and convenient stores.

But artisanal jerky brand Krave, which emerged from the heart of California’s wine country in 2009, ushered in what it calls a “jerky renaissance” with its all-natural, gluten-free snacks in flavors like pink peppercorn, basil citrus and black cherry barbecue.

The Hershey Company acquired the premium jerky brand in 2015 and sought to appeal to an audience looking for healthy snack options—and to boost its 9.2 percent brand awareness. And so it enlisted location-tracking company InMarket to better understand when these shoppers were due for their next trip to the store and to deploy messaging about Krave when they would be most receptive to it.

“It’s sort of the holy grail for advertisers if you can … whisper in the ear of your shopper as they’re holding the product,” said Cameron Peebles, chief marketing officer of InMarket.

The InMarket campaign increased brand awareness to 15.8 percent, so Hershey fulfilled at least one of its objectives. But InMarket’s ability to determine shoppers’ schedules and preferences—even if this is fully in line with industry best practices—begs the question: Can consumers really consent to location tracking when they have no idea who is tracking them and why?

‘We’re in her phone’

InMarket knows where to find receptive ears because it is integrated via a software development kit into about 800 apps, including Epicurious, List Ease and CheckPoints. The company would not name others, but Peebles said they include couponing and lifestyle apps. Screenshots InMarket shared about the Krave execution indicate it is also working with Verywell and The Wall Street Journal. While it is not clear these properties are used in a similar capacity, About.com, Buzzfeed, CNN and the Food Network are also featured on the InMarket website.

(Update: In an email, Dotdash, formerly About.com, said its properties, including Verywell, do not use InMarket for any purpose.)

But ComScore said entities that fall under InMarket include ZipList, WebMD, Big Oven and Coupon Sherpa.

As a result, InMarket had more than 50 million unique mobile visitors in November 2017, according to ComScore, but that figure dropped to 43.7 million in February 2018.

“Those integrations enable us to see via an opt-in structure,” Peebles said. “We are directly integrated into the phone. … One out of every four or five [phones] in the U.S. we can track [with] always-on location data and build really powerful personas or audiences around these consumers. We know where they shop, what days of the week, whether it’s on the way home from work or in the morning, different things like that.”

In other words, dear reader, you’re being watched—digitally, speaking. And, per Peebles, this is not a bad thing for consumers, since the result of companies knowing where, when and why you shop is that you get more relevant offers.

“Because we’re in her phone, we can walk into the store and, at that point, we make the app she uses to shop wake up and push [a notification],” he added. “It changes what people generally don’t like about advertising—it’s not necessarily relevant to them, it’s not a recommendation from a trusted source.”

The right consumer on the right device at the right moment is a well-worn battle cry in digital marketing. But InMarket doesn’t just deliver messaging—it tracks millions of phones. That’s how it determined the Krave audience is educated, over 25, married with a family, earns above average income and owns homes in higher income areas. InMarket also found they shop at local grocery stores; frequent gyms like SoulCycle, 9Round and Equinox; and prefer retailers like L.L. Bean, Vineyard Vines and Nordstrom.

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