Bad news for online advertisers – you’ve been ’ad – John Naughton

The old line was, “the trouble with advertising is that only 50% of it works and you don’t know which 50%”.

My concerns about digital marketing are not about the process per se but rather about the number of people who claim to be “experts”, I think my Linkedin connect requests have become 50% “I’m a digital marketer and I have an innovative solution for dentists” and 50% “the rest”. These new contacts usually tell me that dentists aren’t switched on enough, they don’t return their calls and don’t they want to gain “limitless” (I kid you not) new patients (that’s if they can remember to call them patients). I try to explain that as a professional marketer they really ought to take some time to research their own market, I then also tell them that no I don’t see patients myself and I’m sorry I am not going to introduce them to all my clients just because they are obviously young and oh so clever.

I am reminded of the people who were in financial services at one point selling endowment policies that messed up the financial planning for many. 

You see I’m an old fashioned “duct-tape marketing” fan who thinks that you should use as many free or ‘as low-cost as possible’ systems before putting your hands in your pocket. I’m choosing to be deliberately Luddite here but I suggest that you apply a coat of scepticism before parting with cash. (Never forget that Facebook is an advertising company with ambitions to rule the world by deciding what news it decides you will read.)

John Naughton’s piece in the Observer on Sunday hit the nail on the head as usual. I particularly like the phrase surveillance capitalism.

There is, alas, no such thing as a free lunch. The trouble with digital technology, though, is that for a long time it encouraged us to believe that this law of nature had been suspended. Take email as an example. In the old days, if you wanted to send a friend a postcard saying: “Just thinking of you”, you had to find a postcard and a pen, write the message, find a stamp and walk to a postbox. Two days later – if you were lucky – your card reached its destination. But with email you just type the message, press “send” and in an instant it is delivered to your friend’s inbox, sometimes at the other end of the world. No stamp, no expense, no hassle.

It is the same with using the cloud to store our digital photographs, browse the web, download podcasts, watch YouTube Lolcats, look up Wikipedia and check our Facebook newsfeeds. All free.

Well, up to a point. Most of us eventually tumbled to the realisation that if the service is free, we are the product. Or, rather, our personal data and the digital trails we leave on the web are the product. The data is sliced, diced and sold to advertisers in a vast, hidden – and totally unregulated – system of high-speed, computerised auctions that ensure each user can be exposed to ads that precisely match their interests, demographics and gender identity.

And this is done with amazing, fine-grained resolution: Facebook, for example, holds 98 data points on every user. Welcome to the world of “surveillance capitalism”.

Continues.

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