Clear Channel’s billboards will start tracking consumers in Europe

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Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings’ Radar tracking technology, which gives advertisers access to anonymized mobile phone data about people who pass by billboards, is launching in Europe next month, the Financial Times reported. The outdoor ad-tracking program has been in the US for four years, but Clear Channel waited to launch in Europe so it could meet the EU’s stricter privacy regulations.

William Eccleshare, CEO of Clear Channel’s international division, told the FT that Radar, which he stressed relied on data that was “very well anonymized,” can see and follow people’s movements into a store, follow what they purchase, and look at viewing habits if someone, say, passed by an outdoor ad for a Netflix show.

When Clear Channel launched Radar in the US in 2016, vice president for research and insights Andy Stevens admitted to The New York Times that the process did “sound a bit creepy,” but he noted that the billboards were merely using already-available data that mobile advertisers have been using for some time. And Stevens noted to the Times that ad targeting— showing certain ads to certain people based on demographic data or shopping habits— isn’t a new concept.

The process doesn’t really sound any less creepy in corporate-speak; Clear Channel describes the process, which “measures consumer’s real-world travel patterns and behaviors as they move through their day, analyzing data on direction of travel, billboard viewability, and visits to specific destinations” and then maps that movement against Clear Channel’s outdoor ads. Advertisers can then decide if they want to buy ads to “reach specific behavioral audience segments.”

Remember that scene from Minority Report where Tom Cruise is on the lam, but the billboards know what he likes?

We’re not quite there yet; the Radar-enabled billboards aren’t making spoken sales pitches directly to customers. And it seems like an odd time to try a new market for billboards: outdoor advertising has been hard hit during the pandemic, with advertisers scaling back budgets and becoming less willing to post physical ads in urban areas whose workers weren’t in offices for months. Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings posted a net loss of $137.2 million for the second quarter, with a 55 percent drop in revenue.

But Clear Channel plans to launch Radar in the UK and Spain beginning next month and expand to Sweden in the coming months, according to the FT.

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