Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Adaptive advertising invites depressive stereotyping

English: Detail of a New York Times Advertisem...
Detail of a New York Times Advertisement - 1895  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"Data-driven discovery is tech's new wave" touts a recent article in the New York Times. The article points out that developments in computing power coupled with inexpensive data storage has produced a digital "boiling point" that will enable companies to begin surgically targeting consumer groups based on incisive analysis of web browsing "trails" and age, gender and interests profiles using machine-learning algorithms.  One company they mention is  Rocket Fuela four-year-old Silicon Valley start-up that uses artificial-intelligence software to place display advertisements for marketers on the Web .  So I visited the company's website to see how they describe the service they offer to their own clients.

Rocket Fuel points out that they have defined over 20,000 audience segments that I assume are applied to vast numbers of potential client customers.  I was hoping they would define a retirees segment online so I could see how much of their profile applied to me.  Unfortunately, they didn't detail that demographic group but they did describe others with which I share some attributes.  Here are those segments with my take on their validity based on my own preferences.

Gadget Geeks technology early adopters who are passionate about gadgets
  • Passionate about technology and gadgets - yes
  • Enjoy sharing tech expertise with family and friends - sometimes (I don't like being tech support for friends and family - after all I used to do that for a living and retired to get away from it!)
  • Prioritize quality and brand when shopping - as long as I get bang for the buck
  • Interested in researching and buying the newest gadgets - research yes, buying - not usually a "dot.zero" release and not unless the gadget offers perceived value based on my needs
Leisure Travelers love to travel for pleasure and frequently hunt for travel deals
  • Passionate about travel and travel deals - yes if in my preferred travel area and not a cruise
  • Frequent fliers - yes
  • Enjoy researching about travel online - yes
Not bad so far but how about less niche-oriented segments?

Value Shoppers are budget-conscious shoppers seeking value and quality
  • Research online for deals and coupons - only if I have a product already selected
  • Interested in sweepstakes and contests - no
  • Primary grocery decision-maker, coupon clips, bargain hunts - yes, sometimes and only if bargain information is delivered to me (email) or readily available without extensive research
Moms-on-the-Go are career-oriented and thrive on time-saving products
  • Socially active and web savvy - yes
  • Interested in products that allow more time with family - more leisure time
  • Enjoy dining at family restaurants and steakhouses - no; prefer international cuisine
  • Frequently buy quick-fix meals and time-saving products - no box meals; prefer freshly combined ingredients at a deli or takeout
  • Altruistic, responsible, and creative psychographics - usually
It's obvious when they try to stretch their profiles over a much larger segment, discretionary preferences become more of an issue.

There is currently no consensus on how closely...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm not saying this development is necessarily bad.  I am the first to admit that I really appreciate the algorithm Netflix has developed to recommend movies to me based on my viewing history and expressed ratings.  Their recommendations hit the mark more and more often.  But I have rated over 1,000 movies on Netflix.  I usually only buy a car once every ten years or so and I have no particular brand loyalty.  Furthermore, I am in no financial position to "surprise" my spouse with a new Lexus at Christmas time either! (How I hate those commercials during the holidays - I feel they have been particularly tasteless during this economic recession!!)  Not that I would consider spending that much for mere transportation a worthwhile investment anyway!

As an older consumer, what I fear most is that the media I watch will become depressingly saturated with what Rocket Fuel delicately describes as "senior products".  It already seems like I hear about nothing but incontinence products, sexual dysfunction, medications for all kinds of diseases that befall an aging body, hair loss, wrinkle creams and face lifts, Alzheimer's care centers and estate planning.  It makes me wonder if DISH network has already begun a campaign of adaptive advertising.  Maybe it's just because the educational programming we watch in our household earmarks us as demographically more mature viewers.

After all, during the day the TV is often left on for no other reason than to provide background noise for the dogs and no "consumer" is actually watching it anyway!

What we really need is on-demand program selection so our interests are more specifically defined and we are not automatically profiled by the overall channels we watch. Furthermore, now that so many of us have smart TVs, broadcasters should take a cue from Facebook and give us the opportunity to give ads a thumbs up or thumbs down then remove all ads for products that we have indicated we are absolutely not interested in.  Of course that would mean satellite and cable providers would FINALLY have to surrender their antiquated marketing model of channel tiers!!

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