Pi Attitude Zone: Connectivity & Drive

Ad Targeting And The Twitterscope

Controversy was sparked by a report from an advertising agency suggesting that marketing to women can take advantage of social media traffic to deliver brand messages at exactly the moment when the target consumer is most susceptible.

On Monday mornings, for instance.  That’s when they believe women see themselves as least attractive. "Monday becomes the day to encourage the beauty product consumer to get going and feel beautiful again”, PHD urged advertisers. “Marketing messages should focus on ‘feeling smart’  [and] instant beauty/fashion fixes.  Concentrate media during prime vulnerability moments [Pi’s emphasis] aligning with content involving tips and tricks, instant beauty rescues, [and] dressing for success".

Another good day for communicating your brand’s merits is Thursday, we are told, this time because the ladies apparently feel their best just after mid-week.  "Thursday offers prime opportunities for marketing messages and in-store/promotional activity celebrating best beauty looks, dressing for the weekend, and shopping get-togethers”, we hear.

Rebecca Rosen, writing in The Atlantic, has argued that this is “A perfect example of the troubling possibilities enabled by online data tracking”.  The concern centers not only on the general identification of “optimum selling moments”, but the possibility of taking audience tracking to a far more personal and intrusive level.  A case in point would be homing in on people who tweet about feeling low or unwell, having a bad hair day, or experiencing stress.  If such intercepts were to trigger specific sales messages telling the tweeter about analgesics, hair products or soothing mocha lattes, questions about advertising ethics arise.

These tactics strike some of us as predatory and manipulative.  Where picking optimum days and dayparts to advertise is concerned, Pi would suggest that the practice is actually no worse than advertising food products and restaurants when people are likely to be hungry.  However, ‘spying’ on people’s tweets and Facebook posts to trigger commercial offers may begin to transgress moral and possibly legal demarcation lines. 

The Atlantic article warned against a tsunami of ad messages “leading to actual and perceived harms that challenge the limits of consumer protection law”.  Law professor Ryan Calo at Washington University pointed out that people voluntarily carry their cellphones around whether they are feeling happy, sad, confident or self-critical.  “The digitization of commerce dramatically alters the capacity of firms to influence consumers at a personal level, says Professor Calo. “A specific set of emerging technologies and techniques will empower corporations to discover and exploit the limits of an individual consumers’ ability to pursue his or her own self-interest”.

Pi predicts there will be a heightened debate about this issue.  Examples of advertiser ‘one-on-one’ messaging and the consumer reactions it provokes may trigger new levels of scrutiny by regulators.

Zone: Connectivity & Drive Country: Product – Communications