I read an article recently about a school system that is selling ad space on student report cards and I thought “what a great idea!” The targeting opportunities are tremendous—tutoring for children with lower grades, science museum memberships for students taking science courses, etc.—and there is potential value to parents, including discounts on products and services that would benefit their family. I was surprised, however, by the article’s tone. It included phrases such as “…desperate for revenue…” and “…the slope is slippery…” and “…the bombardment of corporate advertisement.” It made me wonder if actual consumers are really feeling besieged by today’s targeted offers, or if it is just writers using references to Big Brother to make a benign topic seem interesting and controversial.
I don’t know about you, but I like my Big Brother
When I looked up “Big Brother” in various online dictionaries I found: An omnipresent, seemingly benevolent figure representing the oppressive control over individual lives exerted by an authoritarian government. I think we could all agree that this would be really bad. But I don’t agree with the connection between targeted marketing and Big Brother. In a relatively recent posting, Targeted Marketing. Big Brother’s Bigger Brother, the author paints a picture where corporate interests use targeted ads on Facebook to dupe an entire community into accepting an irresponsible proposal.
Where the argument falls down, in my opinion, is in the aspect of control. There are two forces that would counter a comic book style nefarious plot. First, the competitive nature of our society means that advertisements that are effective due to their targeting—such as Facebook ads, TransPromo ads, even ads on student report cards—will soon be scooped up by a variety of competitors. This will result in the opposite of control, but rather in more choices for consumers. I may have an older brother, but I also have friends, coworkers and other family members who influence my likes and dislikes.
The second force is the growing use of “social media” or better yet, the use of social networks; to comment, share content, get help and let’s admit it, complain some times. It is clear to me, that you can contribute to the conversation, but you certainly cannot control it. Even if it were possible to control the conversations happening in social channels, I think that the time and effort required would be far more costly than what you would gain, so why would you want to? My big brother doesn’t have the time or inclination to try to control my life. He has his own life.
Targeted Marketing: What do consumers really think?
In the end what really matters is what consumers think. Do consumers view targeted marketing as Big Brother, or is it their really Cool Older Sister who can offer up great advice? About a year ago I received an oversized postcard in the mail with information about a new program in Connecticut which allows me to buy electricity from the provider of my choice, using my local power company as the delivery network only. With this information I have cut my monthly electric bill in half, and all of my power comes from a facility that is 100% wind generated! I would not have known about this opportunity without the power of direct, targeted marketing.
What are your thoughts on targeted marketing, either in your own experience or any research you have found? Is consumer acceptance keeping up with the technology, or is it lagging? As I am responsible for marketing our new Pitney Bowes ecosystem for TransPromo ads called MarketSpace™, I am curious to know your thoughts.