Villing & Company

Modern Digital Marketing: Harmless Promotion or Home Invasion?

In 1984, Motown artist Rockwell shared with us that he always feels like "Somebody's Watching Me." If that's how he felt 30 years ago, new trends in communication just might push him over the edge.

Technology brands are always competing to offer the latest and greatest. We all want the coolest features, latest apps and devices that do just about everything short of driving our car. But will marketers begin to feel any push back as the average American realizes how much access he or she is granting, especially in light of high profile headlines outlining NSA activities and other personal information gathering reports.

Virgin Mobile USA has a video on YouTube called BlinkWashing that allows the viewer to change video feed with – literally - the blink of an eye. This is possible, of course, because the site is watching you through your webcam. There's no doubt that this is a very cool effect, but I could just as easily view a series of branding videos by clicking through them and not needing to grant two-way access into my living room.

When Microsoft's anxiously awaited Xbox One is released next month, one of its improved features will be an integrated Kinect system. Anticipating a well planned and hard fought battle for the purchase of an Xbox One by the male majority in my household, I did a little bit of research. It certainly sounds like the new system will offer an unmatched gaming experience, down to voice activated power on and off capabilities. The possible ramifications of a constantly activated camera and microphone in your home have already been noted, heightened by the fact that Microsoft filed for a patent last year on a Kinect device that would maintain a live feed and monitor individuals in your household for the reported purpose of detecting possible licensing offenses.

In the short time since Apple's release of iOS 7, I've seen numerous articles outlining recommended privacy settings that offer cautionary tales of what should be disabled and why.  Has this had an impact on the popularity of the latest iPhone? Obviously not as some models are already on backorder and Interbrand just declared Apple to be the world's most valuable brand, taking over the long occupied top spot from Coca-Cola.  Regardless, it's a noteworthy entry on the list of large technology brands that have given at least a segment of the market reason to pause and consider the potentially invasive nature of their product offering.

Viewing this topic in its entirety, I'm reminded of an admittedly low tech parallel. A decade or two ago, many organizations found themselves critically restricted by new telemarketing regulations and "no call" lists. Consumers were bothered by and rebelling against outbound marketing campaigns. Marketers suddenly needed to seek direct permission for communication privileges, a much more time intensive endeavor and something that many lamented as a major hindrance to success.

Are we creating a similar hi-tech situation? Consider, for example, the relatively benign marketing strategy of ad retargeting, something that we are hearing more and more about.  If you're not familiar with it, ad retargeting uses browser cookies to track which sites someone visits. Products and services viewed are noted and that user is then shown ads for those items on other sites they visit. Will consumers become uncomfortable when online ads consistently reflect their web browsing activities? Will they begin to feel like they are being spied upon or cyber stalked and take restrictive action?

As marketers, it's important to be aware of the potential downside to the technologies or strategies that we utilize. Should we avoid ad retargeting or other immediately relevant strategies? Absolutely not.  However, I believe we should proceed with the knowledge that consumers evolve as quickly as technology and be prepared for what's next.

Filed Under: general

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