Scary Marketing

I love Halloween. I love the smell of caramel apple, the carved pumpkins, the abundant chocolate, and watching old scary movies from my youth. As I was getting into the spirit this week and thinking of what to write for this blog, I kept thinking about the idea of “Spooky Marketing.” Arguably the largest obstacle, topic, area of legislation in the marketing world today is the idea of privacy. This includes behavioral marketing, certain CRM efforts, some viral marketing efforts, and sometimes even loyalty and customer service programs. To many these things are “scary,” they feel like marketers are infringing on their personal space and the government is using it as a platform. To others though, these efforts are a warm welcome in a sea of spam attacks. Many want to be marketed to for products and services that they actually care about or have an interest in while filtering out those that are so clearly off base.

But like so much political propaganda, people are being “warned” about marketers data collection. Some are twisting what is intended to be good and making it look evil. But perhaps there are others that really are evil?

This video on YouTube has been viewed nearly 900,000 times and what is more fascinating than the statistic laden video itself are the comments that ensue. Most skew negative in that they question the information, ask whether we are creating a “Google” society that eliminates real human, face-to-face interaction, and others question whether or not social media is dumbing-down our society by propagating false information.

I am part of a group of digital media experts, practitioners, and owners that was discussing this video this week. The conversation that they engaged in was really interesting and to me, quite surprising. These lovers of digital life, progressives in the world of digital marketing, began to talk about many of the companies that are collecting this data and in some cases, seemingly collaborating with government. One digital guru stated, “The behavioral targeting technology and government incursions into our private lives go hand in hand. Presently, the ‘hottest’ company in the video space uses behavioral data to recommend additional video clips to view. The company is Taboola, an Israeli company that spun out from Israeli intelligence. The department of defense and NSA have invested heavily in this technology. One report had Google receiving a $50 million grant from the NSA years ago to share their technology (this may or may not be true). The one saving grace is that these technologies employed really are not overwhelmingly effective. Orwell was half right…he railed against government intrusion (as he was a staunch anti-communist), but he did not envision the complete collusion between corporate and government power.”

Is he crazy? Maybe not. I was reading a Wall Street Journal article the other day titled “A Web Pioneer Profiles Users by Name.” The article goes on to discuss a company called RapLeaf Inc. that collects personal information, even your name, but uses/sells only the generic version of your information to allow political candidates to better target you. Still, they have the most personal of information on each person they have cookied. So the question is, is this right or wrong? Or is it a shade of grey?

It is not “grey” to many of the conspiracy theorists out there. You remember the former Governor Jesse Ventura? He was on a “Conspiracy Theories” marathon on Tru.TV espousing similar feelings as those above. On yet another site, I found this statement by a well respected marketer, “I interpret the current state of affairs as an amalgam of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’ in which he envisioned a society that essentially amuses itself to death (sound familiar?), and George Orwell’s Big Brother of ‘1984’ fame. Speaking of conspiracy theories, I’d suggest that the major media players –in collusion with government at virtually all levels — is a pure and illegitimate cartel, not unlike the Federal Reserve and the IMF.  The major commercial media players wrap themselves like scoundrels in the protective mantle of the First Amendment, but in reality are to free speech what the Federal Reserve and the IMF are to worldwide monetary stability.”

Heavy stuff and more than a little scary. I myself have been a glass-half-full person most of my life so I tend to see the good in what behavioral marketing and appropriate targeting can do, but there is plenty of evidence that there may be those out there that are far more malicious in their intent. So the question is do we stunt the progress of this realm of digital marketing in an effort to stave off the evil? Or, do we do more to reveal the truth in the good that we do in this space to once and for all overcome the paranoia and propaganda? Heavy stuff to ponder as we Trick or Treat.

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