People Aren’t Always Honest About Their Locations

New data from social ad platform 140 Proof

As a marketer, you’ve mastered location-based marketing. Your pizza is hot, it’s lunchtime, and you’ve pinpointed those smartphone-carrying consumers who are in spitting distance of your store. But what if your target consumers aren’t where they claim to be?

Social ad platform 140 Proof, which uses people’s public social network activities such as their location, what they share and who they follow to target them with ads, did some research on the difference between people’s stated locations and their actual ones. Guess what? People aren’t always where they say they are. Here's their blog post on the topic.

In a concept it’s dubbed “geographic drift,” in major cities like New York and L.A., there are many people who self-identify as being from those cities who actually live in a broad area around them. (In 140 Proof's map shown here, the yellow border indicates the actual city while the area in blue shows where self-proclaimed New Yorkers or Angelenos actually are.)

140 Proof has some theories about why this is. Some have to do with convenience (New York is more recognizable than Bridgeport; commuting makes drift possible). But there’s also an aspirational, or vanity, factor.

“People like to be seen in certain areas or neighborhoods,” said John Manoogian III, CTO of 140 Proof. “They’re not necessarily advertising they’re from Walnut Creek.”

There’s no standard way for marketers to evaluate where people are, though, because people can self-report their whereabouts on social networks but they also can be located automatically by things like browser-based location tagging and IP address (140 Proof says the latter can be unreliable, though.)  

All this has different implications for location-based marketers, depending on the type of campaign. A fast-food joint that’s trying to maximize foot traffic might care most about getting people who are actually in the geographic vicinity.

In another scenario, though, a New Yorker who happens to be in L.A. wouldn't be the best target for a local political ad for a candidate running for mayor of L.A., said John Manoogian III, CTO of 140 Proof. 

Thirdly, a brand marketer needs to take into account a person’s state of mind, regardless of where she actually is, though, Manoogian said. (This ad for Diet Coke, its unfortunate wording notwithstanding, is a recent example of that.) The firm is starting to educate buyers and marketers about the different sets of location data and how to use them.

“Location had previously been considered a single set of data,” he said. “This suggests it’s at least two. We need to be considering exactly where this person is. And we have to consider how location affects them as a person and how is that coming into the campaign. There are certain sorts of campaigns that are focused on hyper-local and there are others about my state of mind or my identity.”

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