Is consumer privacy dying? The short answer is no. In the data-gathering industry, most companies recognize consumers’ privacy concerns and engage in responsible data management. However, brands are starting to push the boundary between creepy and creative by using consumers personal info in their advertising.
But where exactly is the line that divides what consumers feel is an appropriate and inappropriate use of their personal information? Consumers have largely accepted that marketers use an online log of their behaviours and spending habits to target online audiences with relevant ads.
Customer satisfaction is no longer the standard. Brands can’t appear like faceless corporations; they’re need to seem more in touch with their consumers who are looking for the unexpected pleasure of being thought of. Like having your own name on a Coca-Cola bottle.
However, surprising consumers is a fine line. A Pew Research Center study found last year that most Americans determine their online privacy rights case by case. In fact, 47 percent of participants said they’re comfortable with retailers tracking their purchases to deliver better deals.
And in a story by New York Times Magazine that focused on Target, they reported that the merchant’s advanced analytics enabled it to identify pregnant women for customized offers. A clever use of purchase information, but to some consumers felt like a creepy invasion of privacy. Roughly 7 out of 10 respondents in the article said it’s not acceptable to send baby food offers to someone who had merely purchased a pregnancy test. Yet 67 percent approve of a company sending free diaper samples to a woman with a newborn.
Major brands, including Spotify, Netflix and others, are walking this fine line by using their stores of user data to not only target but create their ads.
But where, exactly, is the fine line between creepy and creative?
What do consumers find acceptable? The answer comes down to judgment in how the information is used. Companies must balance the need to target customers against the recognition of what crosses the creepy line. Many were amused when Spotify first used data mining in a series of humorous ads last year. It was so popular that the campaign was tweaked it and brought back in 2018 Goals.
Where that line is most heavily drawn, according to the surveys, is on the physical map. Consumers showed a clear aversion to their locations being tracked, physically or online, despite the fact that the practice is widespread.
That may explain why when Netflix piggybacked on Spotify’s first campaign with a single pre-Christmas tweet, “To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?” It drew some inevitable haters who questioned why it called out just one small group of users, unlike Spotify’s wider target.
One billboard in London used facial and vehicle recognition technology to target both pedestrian and vehicle traffic. That system can target advertisements based on an individual’s age, gender, mood and the vehicle they drive. Brands are then pre-programmed to these triggers.
Consumers are much more comfortable with pull marketing; a type of marketing where consumers agree to share data. That data is then used to provide at-the-moment services, such as directions, restaurant recommendations or store locations. However if the same offers are pushed out to them without being requested, they can be perceived as intrusive.
Responsible data use
When you use personal data in marketing, but don’t add value, it becomes intrusive. And as it turns out, consumers don’t hate ads; they hate bad ads. With access to so much data, brands and marketers need to be careful not to go too far. Brands need to first gain customer trust. The best way to do this is by giving them the opportunity to choose whether or not to share their information. An opt-in commitment, combined with transparency and reasonable data collection, elevates the consumer relationship.
The Internet has brought out the best—and the worst—in everyone. But as long as personal information is used to enhance the customer experience, it can lead to big things. However, gaining consumer trust requires shedding light on your intentions, practices, and responsibilities. Do that and you can avoid the dark side of data.
Which side of this fine line between creative and creepy do you fall on? Share your thoughts.
Daniel is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in the Greater Toronto Area.