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date: 28 June 2017

Location Based Ads and Exposure to Health and Risk Messages

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.

It has long since been established that individuals’ physical environment has an important influence on their (un)healthy behavior. According to many, health promotion should, therefore, take place at the level of the individual, and should also change the environment. In this “ecological” approach to health promotion, providing information on the consequences of healthy and unhealthy behavior is combined with environmental interventions. Importantly, recent technological developments have made it possible to move beyond standard environmental interventions. The increasing availability of location-tracking technologies such as GPS-enabled mobile phones makes it possible to send health messages that are targeted to individuals’ physical locations, thereby interacting with and changing individuals’ environment.

Our research groups have conducted several experimental studies investigating the influence of location-based messages on food choices in a supermarket setting. These studies show that location-based messages influence purchase behavior, as long as they are congruent with individuals’ goals. Thus, in situations where the content of location-based messages can be tailored to both the personal goals of individuals and to location, location-based messages may be a very powerful tool for health promotion. These studies show that the effects of location-based messages are independent of medium (mobile device vs. digital display in the supermarket), and that location-based messages are generally not regarded as particularly intrusive. Future research should investigate which message content is likely to be effective under which circumstances. Also, field experiments can investigate the effectiveness and acceptability of large-scale application of this technology. Specific attention should be paid to issues of privacy.