Over the past year, “Here’s What Counts” opined on several topics. But the ones that gained the most traction involved Gen Z’s views on privacy, social media data collection, and 1:1 marketing.
The most popular post, “Have We Ruined 1:1 Marketing? How the Corner Grocer Became a Creepy Intruder,” was reposted on LinkedIn by Don Peppers, co-author of the book, “1:1 Marketing.” The idea grew out of an assignment I gave my students at Rutgers School of Business in Camden, N.J. The students had to compare the 1996 version of database marketing, as described by Arthur Hughes in the introduction to his watershed book, “The Complete Database Marketer,” with the current state of online direct/database marketing. Hughes likened a marketing database to the Corner Grocer, who kept mental notes on his customers’ names, personal preferences, and family connections. Specifically, the students had to tell me how marketing technology innovations have enhanced database marketing since 1996.
While they concede that the targeted ads they experience are usually relevant, several of them noted that they don’t feel they have been marketed to as individuals; but rather, as a member of a group that was assigned to receive a specific digital advertisement by an algorithm. They felt that the idealized world of database marketing that Hughes described in 1996 was actually more personal than the advanced algorithmic targeting that delivers ads to their social media feeds.
It’s not surprising that Gen Zers expect a more personalized marketing experience. As I wrote in “Gen Z College Students Weigh-in on Personal Data Collection — Privacy Advocates Should Worry.”
Some Gen Zers don’t mind giving up their personal data in exchange for the convenience of targeted ads and discounts; others are uneasy, but all are resigned to the inevitability of it.
Student comments included:
“I do not feel it is ethical for companies to distribute our activities to others. Despite my feelings on the situation, it will continue — so I must accept the reality of the situation.”
“… I feel as though consumers gain the most from this value exchange. Marketers can do pretty much whatever they want with the information that they collect, but they do not really ‘gain’ from this exchange, until people actually purchase their products … Even if this exchange allows marketers to play with people’s vulnerabilities, it is ultimately consumers’ choice on whether or not they want to buy something.”
And, in response to a New York Times article about Smart TVs spying on people, one student expressed:
Lest we think that the younger generation is alone in eschewing concerns about privacy, take a look at “Getting Facebook Sober: What Marketers Should Know About Consumers’ Attitudes and Social Data.”
While people claim to be concerned about privacy, they’re not willing to pay for it. A Survey Monkey poll done for the news site Axios earlier this month shows that three-fourths of people are willing to pay less than $1 per month in exchange for a company not tracking their data while using their product — 54% of them are not willing to pay anything.
As we charge into 2020, we need to carefully consider how the data we give up so willingly is used to manipulate not only our purchasing behavior, but our beliefs and values. In the post, “A Question for Marketers: Is it Social or Is it Media?” I recount Sasha Baron Cohen’s speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calling Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”
I sent The Guardian’s publication of Cohen’s speech to my children, two of whom have given up their Facebook accounts. My daughter replied, “Did you learn about this on Facebook? If so, irony is dead.”
Actually, I did. RIP, irony.