Thursday, August 6, 2009

Advertisers get personal or Big Brother knows how you spend your money

It's all about the metrics. One of the chief difficulties marketers have in selling their wares to the C-level office types is being able to prove that it works. Being able to link a marketing program directly to revenue, well for a marketer, that's like a Popsicle on a hot and humid day.

Now, thanks to Geomentum, advertisers are inching closer to capturing their Holy Grail, knowing exactly what ads move customers to spend money. On a large scale this is nothing new. For a while now, marketers have used technology to track consumers browsing habits, watching those clicks turn into cash, but Geomentum's technology makes it possible to understand how individual households will respond to a particular advertising vehicle, television, billboards or newspaper insert.

Cablevision in New Jersey, yes that Cablevision of Jeff Jarvis fame, has a program that targets individual households by demographics for television commercials. While that system does not let the advertisers learn names of the individuals customers, you have to believe that's not too far off because as a society we have traded privacy for convenience and savings.

Anyone who has bought a house or tried to rent an apartment lately knows that if you want a roof over your head, you have to let someone look deeply into your financial life. The paper trail says more about you than any resume or biography.

Less conspicuously, but perhaps more ominously, we've also made a bargain with supermarkets and other purveyors, accepting loyalty cards that bring savings but take away anonymity.

While the loyalty cards do provide savings, they also track the purchases of the supermarket's best customers. According to various sources, supermarkets receive the bulk of their profits from just under 25 percent of their customers. Loyalty cards let the supermarkets know just what those customers buy and make sure the shelves are stock with that particular shampoo or pitted olive.

Worried that we have too easily given up too much information about ourselves, conspiracy theorists and privacy purists have sounded alarms that have mostly fallen on deaf ears. Although privacy advocates have won a few battles, some of their battles with Facebook come to mind, the long-term edge in this war decidedly favors the information gathers.

After 9/11, conservatives who once worried about the government having too much information about us, pushed through the PATRIOT Act, trading privacy for security. Perhaps they realized that the cost of living in the modern world is privacy.

But the very people who used to worry about the government having too much control over our lives invited Big Brother to listen to our calls and search our emails.

For most of us, the convenience of giving up personal information is worth the perceived benefits, but for those who don't want to give up their personal information--for what ever reason--they are swimming against an overwhelming tide. When the government and corporate America's interests align, they create an undertow that sucks us all down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You say "Loyalty cards let the supermarkets know just what those customers buy and make sure the shelves are stock with that particular shampoo or pitted olive." That makes it sound as innocuous as trying to please their best shoppers. Yet I have heard that they want to combo said "loyalty cards" with RFIDs such that you will actually SEE and HEAR different things in the store depending upon your shopping history (eg what is displayed or heard in a given aisle will actually CHANGE when you enter it; also you will get DIFFERENT coupons/discounts) - and one of the things they will do is to DISCOURAGE bargain shoppers - those not in the 25% generating most of their profits!

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