EEK-Commerce! Or How The New Push for Personalized Display Ads Reveals Digital’s Hamhanded Direct Advertising Roots in the Most Totally Creepy Way…

I get it.  These days, everyone gets it.  Any time I’m on an e-commerce site, some unseen recommendation engine works to insure that I see listings that reflect my own tastes and interests, like say alternative music as opposed to polka classics.  And I appreciate that, in much the same way I appreciate when a salesman understands my taste in clothes or shoes or pinky rings.  Data enables remarkable things…

But a senior vice president of advertising for  a company called ChoiceStream recently outlined a disturbing vision for what she sees as the next frontier for her business: expanding personalization from onsite user experience out into the currently impersonal realm of offsite banner advertising.  In this piece from Behavioral InsiderCheryl Kellong sees this as logical progress and considering her title, I guess that’s her job.

“Most retailers by now have at least begun personalizing particular product recommendations and brand attributes for consumers who are on their site.  The problem is that that level of personalization is not followed through when it comes to delivering advertising messages to consumers once they’ve left the site.”

Eww.  The whole notion of customized creative and messaging feels way too Orwellian.  Can she really believe that personalized display ads will build any sort of real relationships between advertisers and consumers?  Seriously?  Because I certainly don’t. Back in the 80’s, we would placate regional beer markets through a more primitive version of this kind of personalization that we called ‘localization.’   This resulted in classic gems like “Hey Chicago, make it a Bud Light!”

Seriously, Do I Know You?
Seriously, Do I Know You?

Now a tree frog could tell you this exercise was meaningless and ultimately, these messages meant more to the local wholesalers than the consumers of the greater Chicagoland/Northwest Indiana market. Because they’re facile. And false.  I don’t doubt that gigabytes of sophisticated web data would allow a ChoiceStream powered banner ad to create a far more intimate overture to me, but the net result is the same–it’s not authentic. I know it. And resent it.

The fact that technology allows you to do something does not make it a good idea.  Frankly, I bristle when people I don’t really know approach me and adopt an attitude of false intimacy or bonhomie; why would I feel differently if your brand behaved that way?

The promise of the web remains the deeply intimate level of one to one communication it makes possible.  But just as in real life, you need to be invited in first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

One thought on “EEK-Commerce! Or How The New Push for Personalized Display Ads Reveals Digital’s Hamhanded Direct Advertising Roots in the Most Totally Creepy Way…

  1. RTB says:

    It seems to me this vision of advertising was illustrated in Spielberg’s “Minority Report.” A future that customizes all advertising, even outdoor, to individual preferences based on retina scans was clearly meant by the director to be unsettling, inappropriate, and, yes, downright creepy because of its Orwellian overtones. In the movie Big Brother was, indeed, watching. Sadly, it appears the folks at ChoiceStream were not, or if they were they quietly said to themselves, “awesome idea.”

    I wish ChoiceStream luck as they explore new levels of consumer resentment.

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