Friday, March 29, 2013

"Re-targeting" and the Creepy Side of Marketing Online

As a marketing guy, I am familiar with a slew of techniques that are used by companies to get their message to potential customers.  It's one of the basic goals of marketing and it's the bedrock of doing business with consumers.

I have no problem with it because I see it as a service.  I make my company's products and services visible to potential customers in appealing ways that entice them to do business with us.  It's honest and straightforward.

Online things should be the same way, but recently internet marketers have moved into the grey area of "re-targeting" and "interactive marketing".  I see this as grey because it potentially violates the implied privacy of individuals online.  Here is an example.

I am an out gay man, no surprise there.  I recently looked for a gay-friendly guest house for one of my trips out of town.  Google efficiently found it for me and I booked a room for a weekend away.

Suddenly, on Facebook, I am getting ads for gay guest houses and the male version of Victoria's Secret underwear and even more NSFW stuff. Saw what?  If I were in the closet at work, anyone who saw that screen would figure I was gay, effectively outing me electronically.

My search on Google was tracked and compared to my Facebook profile as well as the profiles of all of my friends and at the speed of light, a BIG DATA computer crunched that I am gay and therefore would like seeing ads for skimpy men's underwear and suggestive ads.

Kinda creepy, huh?  Now the fallacy of this kind of mindless targeting is that first of all, I don't wear that kind of underwear, if I did I would look like the Hindenburg in a g-string.  Additionally, I do not make a habit of staying in guest houses.  I prefer hotels with all their amenities.  Two strikes for the "re-targeting" algorithm.  What's more is the fact that since I have such a variety of "friends" on Facebook, the assumptions the interactive marketing made are myriad.

The overall impression is that marketers are eavesdropping on everything I do, and they are.  Privacy on the internet is an illusion, every click is tracked and analyzed by someone looking to sell you their product.  This is the big difference in interactive marketing and real-time marketing.

At a mall, I may browse a lot of stores, but the clerks don't follow me around and whisper their message in my ear whenever I stop at a competition's window.  They don't track me down and try to persuade me to by that shirt I passed up at their shop, if they did I'd most likely call the cops or just slug them.

Online, the rules apparently change.  Just a word to the wise.  If you want to have some fun, browse through sites with products and services you would never use in a million years.  Watch the marketing bots try to sell you stuff you don't want.  They aren't going away any time soon, so you might as well screw with them and enjoy it!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Even more than the creepy follow-you-everywhere advertising, what bothers me are the targeted results. On Facebook, in Google - everwhere - people are being served up results that are similar to what they most often read.

The result is that people are in these info-bubbles where they only ever have their world-view re-enforced. Even when I am actively looking for an explanation of the opposing viewpoint, it can be hard to push through that bubble.

No wonder people trying to carry on a conversation about a topic think the other side is crazy. "Where are they getting *that*?" "I've never heard anyone say that." How can we possibly have effective communication or progress when everyone is constantly being fed a diet of what they have already consumed?