Friday, June 11, 2010

targeted marketing

With all this brouhaha about Facebook and its selling of your personal information, several things have occurred to me. I'd like to make a radical proposal: targeted marketing not only doesn't work; it backfires. This should be put in perspective though.

My own story is well-known (to readers of this blog & students): I saw an ad that said that if I was 56, I could have an iPad. I wondered how they knew I was 56 (I had listed my birthdate) and how they knew I was interested in iPads (more devious on their part, but the information was clearly out there). I tried to change my birthdate so I could see marketing directed at 110-year-olds; Facebook wouldn't let me. I object to advertisements that appear with my favorite bands, so I don't tell them my favorite bands. The whole thing offends me.

So I realize, I'm not alone. It offends everyone. They list the Beatles as a band they "like" and all of a sudden the Beatles appear in their sidebar selling them birth control. It's like meeting a salesman who already knows what kind of cereal you eat: come back another day, ok? I don't even like telemarketers, especially when they mispronounce my name. I'm known to say, "he's dead" when they ask for Mr. LeVerritt.

The ironic thing is that the marketers themselves were so eager to jump on the concept. It's well known in telemarketing and other fields that calls to people who have already expressed interest in a topic are always better than what's known as "cold calls." So where's the line? Most of our preferences, our "likes"- we willingly wear on our sleeves. Why do people now have to take these bands and books OUT of their Facebook page, or learn the cavernous mechanisms of its privacy's like, all of a sudden, we have something to hide, that it didn't occur to us had any value whatsoever, before.

Reminds me of something I read while in New Mexico, maybe last spring. Called Google's Orwell Moment, it has been reprinted here, I believe, but got me to thinking about this very problem. Google made the outlandish assumption that people in your e-mail inbox were your "network" or even your "allies." Wrong- they just send you e-mails. Same with Facebook. Why do you assume I want the whole world to know what I "like"? Why do you even assume I want the whole world to know who's in my inbox, or, that they are all allies with each other? Although, I admit, every time I pressed "like"- I assumed I was on Main Street, all along. Main street, with a videocam, lots of tape, and somebody with infinite patience, to dig through all the data.

To get back to the marketers: to be blunt, you're going to have to learn the polite social habit of knowing all this information, but pretending you don't. You're going to have to make ads appear like they're directed at everyone, when they're not. You're going to have to go back to the tried & true raise-their-awareness techniques, and stop poking everyone in the sensitive personal places. Maybe 1984 has come and gone, but don't keep reminding me: I want to maintain some shred of dignity. And I'm still mad about my age; I'm considering counting backward, from now on.

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