Targeted Marketing: Too Effective, Or Just Plain Creepy?


Last night I was reading Matt Mason’s fantastic novel The Pirate’s Dilemma (which is probably the best thing I have read in ages) when I came across the old advertising saying “If you’re not everywhere, you’re nowhere”.

This saying, roughly translated from ad-speak, states that unless the message/product/service you are trying to promote is everywhere possible no one will pay attention to it since consumers are bombarded with too many ads daily, and generally don’t have the time or attention to process them effectively.

Besides making me despair for the sad state of our society when you consider the amount of advertising and brand exposure each of us faces every day (3000 messages per day according to the UCS), it really made me stop and think for a moment – is this saying even valid anymore?

Too Many Ads

Unable to decide for myself, I floated the question to my Twitter network and was surprisingly inundated with replies from people on both sides of the debate.  After a while the consensus seemed to be that while it may be practical to blanket the globe with advertising if you are a well-endowed company like Coca Cola (or now that I think about it, a spammer) this will never make economic sense for 99.9% of companies out there.

In order to be competitive, it makes sense to only advertise in the same “environment” as your target market since they will be much more receptive to your message then the general public, and in turn give you “more bang for your buck” so to speak.

Coke Spam

If you look at the big picture, internet advertising magnifies the concept of target marketing ten fold since consumers are going to visit only the websites that are of interest to them, and therefore are afforded the luxury of bypassing ads they do not want to see – unlike, for example, walking down the street – you can’t block out ads in the real world (well you can if you close your eyes, but then you run the obvious risks).

But as you, me, and any other internet users already know, to advertisers this concept is old hat.

It may have been a shock the first time you logged into your Gmail account and saw contextual ads served up that were similar to the subject matter of your email (sometimes with hilariously unintended consequences), or the first time you saw Amazon recommend you a novel based on your prior purchase history.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as advertisers look for increasing clever ways to target and segment us consumers in order to get their message out there.  For instance, in early 2009 Google will be launching targeted TV advertisements in conjunction with satellite provider Echostar, in a bid to get ads in front of your eyeballs that you may actually respond to, rather then TiVo past.

Google Satellite

And it’s not just these industry titans getting into the act either.  Last week I responded to two separate messages on twitter regarding wine and jazz, and within minutes I was followed by Popptags (a creator of wine tags) and JazzCrowd (a FaceBook group for jazz lovers) – a process becoming (un)affectionately known as “Twittertising”.

How did they accomplish that?  It was probably as simple as using the Twitter Search functionality to find all the tweets including a certain keyword, or using a keyword tracking service like Tweetbeep.

Twitter Bird

Creeped out yet?  I know I am getting there.

All of a sudden that scene from the movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise goes to The Gap only to verbally accosted by the sales hologram asking about his previous purchases sounds fairly plausible.

Ok, NOW I am sufficiently creeped out – any future that is influenced by Tom Cruise can’t be good for anyone.

Tommy Eat World

One Comment

  • Pei Olivencia says:

    This was a Excellent post, I will be sure to save this post in my Reddit account. Have a good evening.

Leave A Reply to Pei Olivencia Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published.