Tag Archives: Target

Privacy and big data: happy with light products

A strange article on the web: Microsoft patented the technology with which the Kinect sensor of the Xbox 360 can “sense the emotion of users” and “show advertisements based on these emotions” because “using cookies to track behaviour is being restricted more and more”. The Kinect sensor is, according to the patent information, able to deduct a user’s mood from faces and body language, and with this information “for instance show unhappy people advertisements about weight loss”. So depressed people will be bombarded with advertising for light products? Until they are happy? Or until enough is sold?

A knight’s privacy
I will not try to be a moralist, I have to admit that I get goose bumps too from ‘privacy knights’ who find that you shouldn’t publicize the personal information of criminals because of their privacy rights. Or who think that all companies and governments are out to follow all of their steps. Contrary to their beliefs, only a few people are really interesting enough to track. And it’s not them. That is why the reaction of Scott McNealy is so characteristic (at that time CEO of software company Sun), when a journalist asked him about the privacy of a new software product: “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it”. It is also the standard reaction of Google on accusations that they think lightly about the privacy of their users: you have no privacy, so let us go ahead with it.

The pregnant data miner
The feeling that companies have gone too far with their urge to track customers struck me when I read about a recent incident (click here) at retail chain Target with an overly active data mining department. An angry customer walked into a Target establisment in Minneapolis and said “My daughter received these coupons for baby clothing by mail? Do you want her to be pregnant?”. The shop manager would investigate and call back a few days later, but when he did the telephone conversation took a turn: the daughter was apparently really very pregnant. The statistics experts at Target had set up a so called ‘pregancy prediction score’ that deducted from the buying behavior of the girl that she would be going in labour in a few months….What they learnt from these incidents is that their ‘pregnancy coupons’ should be more disguised, for instance by placing it next to an advertisement for a lawn mower: “And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”.
So this is how it works: stalk the customer, but as soon as he or she looks around, you dive behind the lighting post. Sick. I also don’t understand the complaints about ‘cookie laws’: just for fun you should go to and see how many companies are ‘stalking’ you around the internet. And when you’re there, click the ‘opt-out’ button, the webite will ask 200 of these ‘stalkers’ on behalf of you to stop doing that. And while you watch a shrinking list of stalkers (when you listen well, you can hear their death scream), you get the feeling of living in The Matrix,  “A computer generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to turn a human being into a battery”.  You really get the feeling that business sees you like that: a battery. And we marketers come up with these ideas, and complain when they bake a law against it.

No Big Data but Vendor Relationship Management
You can talk long about marketing ethics, but the question is if this behaviour will be neccesary in the future anyway. In his book ‘The Intention Economy’, Doc Searls shows a glimpse of the world “when customers take charge”. In The Intention Economy, he writes “the buyer notifies the market of his intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase”. Marketing will become very different, you don’t have to haunt and catch customers: “free customers are more valuable than captive ones”. Companies don’t need to collect ‘Big Data’ about large numbers of customers, the customer will manage his ‘Small Data’ himself. Not in CRM but VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. By giving control to the customer, we will earn more money: “The market will have many more dances when customers can take the lead”. Great image of the future, isn’t it? Who will dance with me?

This post is the fourth chapter of the yet to be written book (click here) about ‘REAL Inbound Marketing’. All comments are welcome!


Tags: , , , , , , ,