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date: 19 August 2017

Location-Based Ads and Exposure to Health and Risk Messages

Summary and Keywords

Many of us use smartphones, and many smartphones are equipped with the Global Positioning System (GPS). This enables health promoters to send us messages on specific locations where healthy behavior is possible or where we are at risk of unhealthy behavior. Until now, the practice of sending location-based messages has been mostly restricted to commercial advertisements, most often in retail settings. However, opportunities for health promotion practice are vast. For one, location-based messages can be used to complement environmental interventions, where the environment is changed to promote health behavior. Second, location-based messages incorporate opportunities to tailor these messages to individual characteristics of the recipient, increasing perceived relevance. Finally, location-based messages offer the distinct possibility to communicate context-dependent social norm information. Five preliminary studies tested the effects of location-based messages targeting food choice. The results suggest that sending location-based messages is feasible and can be effective. Future studies should explore which messages are most effective under which circumstances.

Keywords: location-based health communication (LBHC), ecological approach, interventions, social norms

With a high and increasing worldwide smartphone penetration, billions of people are connected with online systems, and to other people through these systems. Many of these smartphones are equipped with the Global Positioning System (GPS), enabling us to determine our position and to make optimal use of maps and other navigation tools. Importantly, we can also allow companies, governments, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to send us messages that are relevant to our physical location.

In advertising, the practice of matching messages to a recipient’s location using specific longitude and latitude data is called geo-precise targeting (xAD, 2012) or location-based advertising (LBA; Banerjee & Dholakia, 2012). It is most often applied in retail settings, such as shopping malls, where buyer behavior can be most immediately influenced. Recently, a number of professional publications have argued that using location data to send targeted messages is one of the major promises of mobile advertising (Tode, 2013; xAD, 2012).

To some, the practice of location-based advertising may not seem particularly relevant for health promotion. In fact, there could be justified concerns when fast-food restaurants use location-based messages to increase the effectiveness of their advertising. But location-based messaging could also have positive implications for health promotion, as it allows governments, NGOs, or health companies to send us messages when our environment presents an opportunity for healthy behavior. This article focuses on these possibilities, outlining the promise of location-based health communication (LBHC).

The opportunities offered by LBHC are vast. LBHC can be implemented in the context of “environmental interventions” that attempt to change environmental determinants of health behavior. Importantly, however, LBHC also offers the potential to implement other insights from health promotion theory. For example, location-based messages can be tailored to individual characteristics of recipients, increasing perceived relevance. In addition, location-based messages are well suited to communicate social norms. At present, however, the scientific research in this area is only just emerging, and LBHC has not reached its full potential in health promotion practice. This article outlines a theoretical foundation of LBHC, demonstrating that health promotion theory provides a solid rationale for adapting messages to recipients’ location, grounded in ecological health promotion, message tailoring, and research on normative social influence. After this, innovative empirical evidence is presented regarding the effects of location-based persuasive messages. Five recent studies are described that tested the effects of location-based messages. At the close of the article, the role LBHC can play in promoting healthy behavior is discussed and research opportunities for the field of location-based health communication are identified.

The Environment as a Determinant of Health Behavior

The evidence that the environment influences health behavior is strong (Seymour, Yaroch, Serdula, Khan, & Blanck, 2004). The environment is usually defined as “everything outside of the individual” (Brug & Van Lenthe, 2005), thus including both the physical and the social environment, but also more distantly the economic, political, and cultural environment. In the domain of healthy eating, for instance, environmental factors that are known to affect health behavior are availability of (un)healthy products, price, social influences (Kremers, De Bruijn, Wendel-Vos, Van Lenthe, & Brug, 2005), but also packaging and presentation (Van Ittersum & Wansink, 2012; Wansink, Painter, & North, 2005).

In the ecological approach to health promotion, therefore, education is combined with environmental interventions, which is to say interventions that aim to change the physical, social, economic, and/or socio-cultural environment (Matson-Koffman, Brownstein, Neiner, & Greaney, 2005). The two types of environmental intervention that are most prominent in the literature are the school-based environmental intervention and the workplace intervention (Kremers et al., 2005; Seymour et al., 2004). Both types of intervention, for instance, may consist of lowering the price of healthy products in the school or workplace cafeteria and increasing the availability of healthy products (French, Story, Fulkerson, & Hannan, 2004).

Systematic reviews of environmental interventions concluded from the available evidence that environmental interventions mostly have positive effects on health-related outcomes (De Bruijn, Kremers, Wendel-Vos, Van Lenthe, & Brug, 2005; Kremers et al., 2005). In one example, Sorensen et al. (1999) tested the effects of a 20-month intervention that increased the availability of fruit and vegetables in workplace cafeterias, but that also consisted of tasting lessons, presentations, and a telephone line where people could obtain additional information. In another study, the offered meals were adjusted to contain less fat, and the number of offered products low in fat was increased (Dubois, Strychar, Champagne, Leblanc, & Tremblay, 1996). These studies showed that changes in the environment can improve healthy eating behavior.

Location-based messages can be used to complement such environmental interventions, for instance by advertising a greater variety of healthy products, or by communicating special offers. Importantly, this also entails the possibility of tailoring these messages to individual characteristics. After all, one potential challenge for environmental interventions is that each individual reacts differently towards his/her environment. As an example, consider a workplace cafeteria with an increased number of healthy products. When two employees enter the cafetaria, they both have their own food preferences. If these preferences can be assessed, offers can be tailored to the individual employees. If preferences cannot be assessed, however, the environmental intervention will likely not achieve its optimal effect, given that different people may react differently to the same situation. Tailoring health messages to recipients’ characteristics may be a solution to this problem.

Tailoring Messages

In the simplest of terms, communication can be perceived as the transfer of information from one place to another. But persuasion scholars have long understood that, for communication to have a specific effect on the recipient, the information that is provided should be congruent with the recipient’s thoughts and needs (Kreuter & Skinner, 2000). “Tailoring” messages to a recipient’s characteristics is one way in which this can be achieved (Rimer & Kreuter, 2006).

Tailoring has been defined as “any combination of information or change strategies intended to reach one specific person, based on characteristics that are unique to the person, related to the outcome of interest, and have been derived from an individual assessment” (Kreuter & Skinner, 2000; p.1). Tailoring has been shown to be an innovative and promising method to improve health behavior (Noar, Benac, & Harris, 2007; Van Keulen et al., 2008).

To create persuasive tailored messages, Dijkstra (2016) distinguishes five classes of “tailoring ingredients” that are afforded by persuasive technology: personalization, feedback, content matching, source matching, and exposure matching. Personalization refers to how a specific message can be embedded within a personally relevant or recognizable context, for instance, by mentioning one’s name (i.e., initiating identification), by adjusting parts of the presentation based on the individual’s preferences (i.e., contextualization), or by raising the expectation that the message is especially for the individual. Feedback takes place when recipients are informed of the progress (or lack thereof) they are making towards a predefined goal (e.g., “You took 2,358 steps today, that’s ok [or that is near to your goal]”; Dijkstra, 2016; p. 9). Content matching refers to the link between the content of a message and the characteristics or preferences of an individual, when the content of a message is based on individuals’ preferences as previously assessed. Source matching is also an important ingredient of tailoring, and refers to presenting people with information that comes from sources they trust and/or whom they can compare themselves with. Finally, exposure matching refers to matching the timing and intensity for the messages (Dijkstra, 2016).

The proven success of computer-tailored messages (Noar et al., 2007) corroborates the theoretical rationale for making messages congruent with recipients’ thoughts and needs (Kreuter & Skinner, 2000). It could be expected, therefore, that using location data to further tailor messages would be a worthwhile endeavor. Importantly, however, it is possible to combine location-based messaging with the use of other tailoring ingredients. In this way, a message can be created that is congruent with the recipient’s physical location, in effect implementing an environmental intervention, but at the same time is tailored to other relevant recipient characteristics. As such, LBHC offers the possibility of combining an ecological approach to health promotion with tailored messages. But the dynamic nature of LBHC offers more opportunities. We therefore now turn to the content of location-based messages. Although this content can be informed by any number of health-promotion theories, the communication of social norm information is particularly promising in the context of LBHC

The Content of LBHC

Until now, it has been assumed that location-based messages can work because they can point out opportunities for healthy behavior that are nearby. It has also been hypothesized that the effectiveness of these messages can be increased when targeting the opportunities that are relevant for the individual recipient. In addition, attention should be paid to the content of these messages. Choices regarding the content of location-based messages can be informed by a wide range of health promotion theories. Location-based messages, in particular, can be used to communicate social norms.

It has been well established that people are generally likely to comply with decisions and actions of others (Cialdini, 1984). Social norms can influence decisions as they reflect customary rules of behavior that are common and accepted in specific situations (Keizer & Schultz, 2012; Lewis, 1969). In the context of LBHC, it is notable that the content of persuasive messages can be designed such that particular social norms are made salient (Cialdini, Kallgren, & Reno, 1991; Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990). These normative messages may contain descriptive social norms, referring to what is commonly done.

In a health promotion context, normative messages have been effective. For example, Mollen, Rimal, Ruiter, and Kok (2013) showed that applying a healthy descriptive norm in a restaurant setting resulted in more healthy food choices compared to unhealthy descriptive norms and a control condition. Injunctive norms, referring to what is commonly approved or disapproved of, did not result in significantly more healthy food choices compared to the control conditions. For location-based health messages, then, communicating descriptive social norms may offer a promising way to increase the effectiveness of the persuasive information.

Besides normative messages, normative influence may also be incorporated as environmental cues to which individuals are unobtrusively presented with. For example, Prinsen, de Ridder, and de Vet (2013) found that people are more likely to consume chocolate when there’s a bowl of chocolate wrappers besides the bowl of chocolates, to indicate that previous participants had chosen to eat one or more chocolates from the bowl. This may suggest that only minor changes to the environment are strong enough to change behavior.

There is also some evidence that descriptive social norms are highly dependent on context. In one interesting study, Goldstein, Cialdini, and Griskevicius (2008) investigated the effects of descriptive social norms on environmental behavior in a hotel setting. Specifically, they provided guests with descriptive social norms concerning towel reuse (“the majority of guests reuse their towels”) and showed that this increased towel use significantly relative to the traditional appeals that focused on environmental protection. Interestingly, the effect was greatest when the message was adjusted to individuals’ immediate physical setting (“the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels”). Goldstein et al. call such context-specific social norms provincial norms and argue that they are more effective than regular descriptive norms.

If this is the case, location-based health messages could employ such provincial norms to influence recipients’ perceptions of what is appropriate behavior on a specific location. For instance, when a message can be designed that informs restaurant patrons of the opportunity to order a healthy meal, the same message can be used to communicate how popular this healthy option is among the restaurant’s patrons. Normative messages like these highlight social norms that otherwise may go undetected in a certain situation and so have the power to influence behavior on multiple levels.

It should be noted, however, that researchers in Germany replicated this experiment in their country and did not find similar effects for descriptive and provincial normative influence, despite highly similar procedures (Bohner & Schlüter, 2014). The authors argue that towel reuse in Germany was already as high or even higher than the communicated norm, indicating the importance of the size of the normative majority that is incorporated within the specific message. In addition, they suggest that German recipients are already highly concerned about environmental protection, which may have resulted in a relatively high response to the environmental appeals.

Thus, although the specific effects of provincial versus descriptive social norm require additional research attention, there is a distinct possibility that the effects of descriptive social norms are highly context-dependent. As such, location-based messages are highly suitable for context-specific normative social influence. It should be clear by now that there is great promise in LBHC. The next section, therefore, turns to the empirical evidence that sending location-based messages can be effective. Unfortunately, it will become apparent that research on the use of LBHC is rather scarce.

Previous Research

Van Stralen, De Vries, Mudde, Bolman, and Lechner, (2009) tested the effects of an environmentally tailored intervention aimed at promoting physical activity in the neighborhood. They found that the intervention resulted in increased cycling behavior and was generally better appreciated than an intervention that was tailored to individual characteristics, but not to the environment. However, the environmentally tailored intervention in this study provided recipients with information about opportunities for physical activity in their neighborhood. As such, the intervention was tailored to their home address, without actually keeping track of the places recipients went and adapting messages accordingly. Therefore, as promising as these results are, they likely provide an underestimation of what LBHC, with current technology, can do. For instance, whereas all recipients living in a specific neighborhood will have received the exact same information in Van Stralen et al.’s study (depending on condition), an LBHC-intervention would have been able to track individual differences in movement, making it possible to distinguish between individuals who work in different neighborhoods, while living in the same one. This way, LBHC could have provided a more detailed kind of environmental tailoring. Moreover, such location matching could be combined with personalization, feedback, content matching, source matching, exposure matching, and normative messages to provide a more personally relevant message.

Unfortunately, these and other opportunities are underexplored in the literature. Even in the advertising literature, and despite the growing prevalence of location-based advertising, there is very little scientific evidence for the effectiveness of location-based advertising messages. Van ’t Riet and colleagues (2016) identified only a limited number of studies dealing with the impact of location-based advertising on recipients. Most of these did not have a sufficiently robust experimental design to allow for a reliable estimate of the effectiveness of location-based advertising, employing either qualitative methodology (Tussyadiah, 2012), or experiments where a no-location-based advertising control condition was lacking (Banerjee & Dholakia, 2012; Unni & Harmon, 2007; Xu, Oh, & Teo, 2009). Moreover, most studies used a verbal scenario procedure, asking consumers to imagine receiving a location-congruent ad. This is understandable given the practical challenges of testing actual location-based messages, but one can wonder whether such a procedure results in a reliable prediction of what recipients would do if they actually received a location-congruent message in real life.

The Behavioural Science Institute, at Radboud University in the Netherlands, has conducted a number of studies on the acceptability and effects of location-based messages. The next section discusses five of these studies. They are small-scale studies, mostly performed in an artificial virtual reality setting. As such, they provide only preliminary evidence. However, as there is precious little research on the effects of LBHC, these studies provide a valid starting point for investigating the effects of location-based health messages.

Empirical Evidence: Location-Based Messages

Perhaps it is not surprising that there is so little research on the effects of location-based messages. Communication researchers more generally have struggled with the evaluation of interactive and context-sensitive applications, like location-based communication, as a result of their lack of means to create an ecologically valid research setting (Hühn, Khan, Lucero, & Ketelaar, 2012). In the field of human-computer interaction (HCI), however, this has been a familiar challenge for some time, giving rise to a new line of research where lab studies have been extended with virtual environments (Hühn et al., 2012). This offers participants a dynamic and interactive context during their experience, while researchers retain a controllable and malleable experimental setting (Leichtenstern, André, & Rehm 2010). In an attempt to investigate the effects of location-based messages, the investigators employed research tools derived from the field of HCI. We conducted a series of experiments, using a simulated shopping location created by means of virtual reality. This virtual environment created the interactivity that was necessary for an ecologically valid consumer experience.

In these experiments, participants entered a “virtual supermarket” (VSM) with the task of selecting a number of products for purchase. All participants were equipped with a smartphone and were instructed to keep this phone in their hands during the entire experiment. This mobile device was used to send participants the location-congruent and location-incongruent messages. More specifically, an Android application was developed for the smartphone, which connected it with the VSM through Wi-Fi. The moment that the participants entered the area where the message could be sent, the so-called “trigger area,” this application would play a notification sound, vibrate, and present the message to participants. The message contained a discount offer for a specific product. Right behind the trigger area, a shelf was used to display the product for which the discount was offered in the location-congruent condition or another, unrelated, product in the location-incongruent condition. Box 1 provides a detailed description of the procedures that were used in this innovative line of research.

Thus, during their virtual shopping experience, participants received one message on their mobile device, which was used to create our experimental manipulations. The message contained the same discount offer for all participants. Importantly, the message was also triggered on the same (virtual) location in the VSM for all participants. However, the VSM itself was manipulated such that for half of the participants, the shelf that was closest to the message’s trigger area contained the product in question, making the ad location-congruent. For the other half of the participants, the shelf contained another product, and the promoted product could only be purchased on another location, making the message location-incongruent.

We chose to manipulate the location of the advertised product rather than the location of the trigger area. The reason for this was the fact that varying the location of the trigger area would mean that participants would receive the ads in different locations, introducing the possibility that their reactions to the ad may be influenced by the myriad of factors that differ between the different locations (e.g., distance into the supermarket, progress with the shopping list, shelved products in the vicinity of the trigger area, etc.).

Box 1 Virtual Supermarket

A virtual supermarket (VSM) was projected onto four rear-projection screens (each 3.6 meters wide and 2.6 meters high). The screens formed a closed space, with a square floor surface of approximately 13 m2, offering participants a 360° view of the environment. Participants were instructed to stand in the exact center of the floor surface, which was designated by a cross on the floor. Participants could move in the VSM with the help of a head-tracking system based on the Microsoft Kinect. This system determines the participant’s head’s position in the CAVE, which is then used to control motion in the VSM. When the participant stands in the center of the CAVE, the virtual camera stands still, but when the participant takes one step forward, the projections on the screens change to give the participant the impression of moving forward. As long as the participant remains standing one step from the center of the CAVE, he/she will keep “moving.” The speed with which this happens is dependent on the distance between the participant and the middle of the CAVE: a larger distance (a bigger step forward) results in faster virtual movement. The participant is able to turn and step in every direction relative to the CAVE’s center; he/she can move sideways and backward, and to the left and right, by taking a step to the side and to the back, and turning to face left/right. In contrast to often-used head-mounted virtual displays, the VSM did not block out the physical world, offering the opportunity to include physical objects, in particular the mobile smartphone, in the experimental procedure. For the research on location-based messages, a supermarket environment was created based on the corporate style and spatial arrangement in the supermarkets of the Netherland’s largest supermarket chain.

Study Results: First Test

In a first set of studies, we investigated the effects of location-based messages on perceived intrusiveness, attitude towards the application, and intention to use the application. Advertising intrusiveness, as Vespe (1997) has noted, is a common complaint of consumers when advertising practices interrupt the fulfillment of their goals. Intrusiveness can be seen as a perception that occurs when consumers’ cognitive processes are interrupted (Li, Edwards, & Lee, 2002). Intrusiveness can have negative consequences, such as irritation and ad avoidance (Cho & Cheon, 2004), and is therefore a relevant outcome measure. In two studies, participants were instructed to walk through our virtual supermarket as if they were doing their own groceries. We asked participants to select five products of their own choice for purchase.

The results of Study 1 showed that location-congruent messages were perceived as less intrusive than location-incongruent messages. The results of Study 2 confirmed this result, with location-congruent messages leading to lower levels of perceived intrusiveness than location-incongruent messages. In turn, perceived intrusiveness mediated a positive effect of location congruence on attitude towards the application and intention to use the application.

These results with regard to the general attitude towards and acceptance of location-based messaging are promising: location-based messages were perceived as less intrusive than location-incongruent messages, while also leading to more positive attitudes towards the application. However, this does not prove that the technology would be effective: attitude and intentions with regards to the application were assessed, but not attitude, intention, and behavior with regard to the promoted product. Therefore, the VSM was taken a step further in a next study.

Behavioral Effects and Medium

In this study (Ketelaar et al., 2016), participants were instructed to walk through the virtual supermarket and were given a grocery list containing four products. Among these was the target product that would be promoted, but participants were not told this. The results of this study showed that location-congruent messages resulted in increased choice for the promoted product as compared to location-incongruent messages.

In addition to the manipulation of location congruence, the medium of the message was manipulated. That is, in one condition the message was send to participants’ mobile device, as in the previous two studies (see above), but in a second condition, the message was displayed on a stationary display above the product shelf that was positioned at the front of the aisle. The message was the same in both conditions, containing a promotion for one of the products on the shopping list. The results showed that medium type did not affect purchase behavior, nor did it interact with location congruence. Thus, location congruent messages were more effective than location-incongruent messages, both for mobile messages and for stationary “point-of-purchase” messages. On the one hand, one could argue that in-store mobile location-based messages do not add very much to the decades-old practice of using displays to promote healthy products in supermarkets and groceries stores (see Van ’t Riet, 2013). On the other hand, one could argue that using mobile messages works just as well as stationary displays, and people attend to mobile messages as much as they attend to more traditional messages in their immediate environment.

Goal Relevance

The studies discussed so far suggested that people are generally accepting of location-based message technology, that it can influence purchase behavior, and that this effect is independent of (mobile versus stationary) medium. But what if someone receives a location-based message promoting a product that is of little interest to her? Can location-based messages spur an interest in such a product, regardless of people’s initial goals and desires? Or are location-based messages only effective when they promote products that are aligned with people’s a-priori goals? In other words, aside from being congruent or incongruent with people’s location, messages can be either relevant or irrelevant with regards to people’s goals. This was investigated in Study 4, in which goal relevance was manipulated (Van ’t Riet et al., 2016).

As in the previous three studies, a virtual simulation of a real-world shopping experience was used, but this time both location congruence and goal relevance were manipulated. All participants received a short grocery list with the instruction to purchase the listed products in the virtual supermarket. Goal relevance was manipulated by changing the products on the grocery list. In the high-relevance condition, the shopping list included the product that was advertised in the message, making the message highly relevant, whereas in the low-relevance condition, the shopping list included another product, making the message not relevant.

Another way to manipulate goal relevance would have been to offer participants different messages in the different conditions. Thus, participants could have received only one shopping list, but the product that was promoted in the message could have been manipulated. A downside of this, however, would be that the content of the message would differ systematically between the conditions. Thus, possible differences between the high- and low-relevance conditions may be ascribed to participants reacting differently to different products due to personal preferences. For this reason, the message was kept constant, and the VSM and the shopping list were manipulated for location and goal relevance.

The results showed a large effect of location congruence, but only in the high-relevance condition. When the message promoted a product that was included on the shopping list, the location congruent message resulted in more purchases than the location incongruent message. When the message promoted a product that was not included on the shopping list, however, there was no difference between the location congruent and the location incongruent message conditions.

The results of this study showed that location-based messages influenced purchase behavior, as long as they were congruent with individuals’ goals. Thus, in situations where the content of location-based messages can be tailored to the individual’s personal characteristics as well as to location, location-based messages may be a very powerful tool for health promotion.

Field Experiment

The results of the first four studies suggest that location-based messages are generally acceptable to recipients and are capable of influencing behavior. It should be noted, however, that there are significant downsides to the artificial laboratory setting used in Study 1-4. On the one hand, it afforded us the opportunity to provide participants with a realistic shopping experience, while retaining experimental control. On the other hand, participants’ actual experience in the lab will probably have been quite different from an actual shopping experience. In fact, as discussed above, some of the unexpected results of Study 1-4 might stem from our use of rather artificial experimental procedures, like the shopping list manipulation. Therefore, we conducted another study, this time with the main aim of investigating the acceptability of location-based messages in a real-world situation (Hühn et al., 2017). To do this, a mobile application was developed for undergraduate students, featuring campus news and information concerning class schedules. This application also included daily offers for the University restaurant, which were either (semi)location-congruent or location-incongruent. Immediately after viewing the ads the app presented a short questionnaire to the participants for a period of four weeks, measuring the perceived intrusiveness, relevance, and value of these messages. During these four weeks, daily ads were sent to 40 students, resulting in 107 responses from 23 participants. The results show that participants perceived location (semi)congruent ads as significantly more valuable and relevant than incongruent ads. No significant results were found for perceived intrusiveness.

While the small sample in this study did not allow investigation of the behavioral effects of the location-based messages, these results are promising with regards to the acceptability of location-based messages. They suggest that location-based messages are acceptable in a real-life setting. Future studies, obtaining similarly high levels of ecological validity, should attempt to investigate the behavioral effects of location congruence.


These studies have shown that location-based messages containing discount offers in a supermarket setting are generally acceptable. Acceptability is an important issue with regards to new technology. Whether a specific LBHC intervention will provide sufficiently valuable information for recipients to overcome distrust to location-based messages will be different for each intervention. Nevertheless, some preliminary evidence is provided in the context of location-based messages advertising discounts for food products in a supermarket setting. It should be noted, though, that participants were sent only one single message. In a quite different context, Spook, Paulussen, Kok, and van Empelen (2013) showed that, when using mobile technology for ecological momentary assessments, sending multiple requests per day to fill in a questionnaire was perceived as bothersome. This suggests that there is a fine line between acceptable and annoying messages/requests. Future studies should investigate further under what circumstances mobile messages are acceptable, and how many.

The research also suggests that location-based health messages are capable of influencing purchase behavior. Future studies should investigate the effectiveness of location-based messages in a wider range of contexts. It is notable that discount offers were used in these studies, as this is a common way for commercial advisers to use location-based messages. In health promotion, however, it is not always desirable and possible to offer discounts for products. Instead, health messages sometimes aim to prevent the purchase of products, especially unhealthy ones. Alternatively, health messages can have the aim of promoting physical activity, an area where discounts are not likely to be very important. It is likely that each specific context calls for a specific kind of location-based message. Future research should begin to investigate which kinds of health related messages are effective in which context. As discussed above, tailoring messages to individuals’ preferences and communicating context-specific social norms offer two promising avenues for future research.

Into the Future …

With a high and increasing smartphone penetration everywhere in the world, it is now possible for health promoters to send people messages that are tailored to their location. This opens up the possibility to send people messages when their environment presents an opportunity for healthy behavior. But other persuasive strategies can also be used, for instance tailoring these messages to individuals’ preferences and communicating healthy social norms that exist in a certain location. Despite these exciting possibilities, scientific research in this area is only just emerging. This article has shown that location-based health messages can be solidly based in health promotion theory. The ecological approach to health promotion has previously emphasized the importance of the environment for healthy behavior. Research on computer tailoring has shown that adjusting messages to recipients’ characteristics is an effective persuasive strategy. Research on normative social influence shows that it can be a highly effective persuasive strategy. As such, there is a solid rationale for using mobile technology and location targeting in health promotion interventions. Empirical evidence has also been presented regarding the effects of location-based persuasive messages, describing five recent studies that have overall shown support for the notion that location-based messages can be acceptable to recipients and effective in influencing behavior. Future research should focus on the content of these messages. Social norm information, in particular, may be very effective in promoting healthy behavior.

Further Reading

Banerjee, S., & Dholakia, R. R. (2012). Location-based mobile advertisements and gender targeting. Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, 6(3), 198–214.Find this resource:

Hühn, A. E., Khan, V. J., Ketelaar, P., van ‘t Riet, J., Konig, R., Rozendaal, E., et al. (2017). Does location congruence matter? A field study on the effects of location-based advertising on perceived AD intrusiveness, relevance & value. Computers in Human Behavior. Available online March 14, 2017.Find this resource:

Ketelaar, P. E., Bernritter, S. F., Van ’t Riet, J., Hühn, A. E., Van Woudenberg, T., Müler, B. C. N., et al. (2016). Disentangling location based advertising: The effects of location congruency and medium type on consumers’ ad-attention and brand choice. International Journal of Advertising, 36(2), 356–367.Find this resource:

Van ’t Riet, J., Hühn, A. E., Konig, R., Ketelaar, P., Rozendaal, E., Khan, J., et al. (2016). Investigating the effects of location-based advertising in the supermarket: Does goal congruence trump location congruence? Journal of Interactive Advertising, 16(1), 31–43.Find this resource:

Van Stralen, M. M., De Vries, H., Mudde, A. N., Bolman, C., & Lechner, L. (2009). The working mechanisms of an environmentally tailored physical activity intervention for older adults: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 6, 83.Find this resource:

Xu, H., Oh, L. B., & Teo, H. H. (2009). Perceived effectiveness of text vs. multimedia location-based advertising messaging. International Journal of Mobile Communications, 7(2), 154–177.Find this resource:


Banerjee, S., & Dholakia, R. R. (2012). Location-based mobile advertisements and gender targeting. Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, 6(3), 198–214.Find this resource:

Bohner, G., & Schlüter, L. E. (2014). A room with a viewpoint revisited: Descriptive norms and hotel guests’ towel reuse behavior. PLoS ONE, 9(8): e104086.Find this resource:

Brug, J., & Van Lenthe, F. (Eds.). (2005). Environmental determinants and interventions for physical activity, nutrition, and smoking: A review. Zoetermeer, Netherlands: Speed-Print.Find this resource:

Cialdini, R. (1984). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: HarperCollins.Find this resource:

Cialdini, R. B., Kallgren, C. A., & Reno, R. R. (1991). A focus theory of normative conduct: A theoretical refinement and reevaluation of the role of norms in human behavior. In M. P. Zanna, (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 201–234). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Find this resource:

Cialdini, R. B., Reno, R. R., & Kallgren, C. A. (1990). A focus theory of normative conduct: Recycling the concept of norms to reduce littering in public places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 1015–1026.Find this resource:

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