The Line Between Targeted and Creepy

When I take off my direct marketing hat and think about mobile marketing from a consumers’ perspective, it can be a little frightening. Marketers can know where I am at all times. Essentially, they can track me. It does seem like an invasion of my privacy…

Boy, howdy, does it ever. Speaking as a cranky old guy, I can say without equivocation that I don’t want ads on my cell phone. I don’t want personalized ads to show up in my email. I don’t want to be followed around.

But that may be generational — I grew up in an age of mass media, and mass advertising. I don’t mind commercials on the radio (in fact, I create them and sell them), or on television. Newspaper and magazine ads don’t bother me, either. There’s an implicit, decades-old contract at work: you deliver me news/music/entertainment, and I “pay” for it by putting up with your ads.

There are signs that the contract is breaking down on both sides — spam and greatly increased clutter on the advertiser’s side, TIVO on the consumer’s — and it’s not surprising that advertisers are looking for any technological advantage they can get.

To stay on the good side of the “creepy divide”, the key is going to be permission. Offer something of value to the consumer in return for permission to contact them.

My company is now involved in cell phone text-message advertising, but listeners must opt-in to get the messages, and can opt out easily at any time. I’m just finishing up a program with the Oregon Elections Division that starts with a contest: text the word “vote” to 81530 for a chance to win an Ipod Touch. When people enter the contest, they’re invited to sign up for text-message voter reminders on things like registration deadlines and the last day to put a ballot in the mail. You don’t have to get the reminders to enter the contest, and you can stop them at any time. More than three hundred people have chosen to get the reminders.

Asking permission cuts down on the number of people who will get our message. But it keeps us honest, and it forces us to make sure our messages are of value to the consumer. It’s one way to stay away from “creepy”.


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4 thoughts on “The Line Between Targeted and Creepy

  1. I am of the generation where texting is not my life, but I wouldn’t want to go without it. Permission is key. I dont want any personalized information being sent to my cell phone or emails either. That is very creepy and to be honest it would get on my nerves.
    Eventhough I am of the younger generation, I agree with the “…you deliver…, and “I pay” quote. If I don’t ask for it, DON’T GIVE IT TO ME.

  2. I don’t know if cell phone text advertising is gonna take off or not. But if sometime in the future, text message spam is sent at the rate of email spam, there’s gonna be a lot of pissed off people.

  3. You know I think it’s creepy! But, mobile marketing is already big business… As in $1 billion (yes, a b) and expected to grow to $2.2 billion by 2012. Yikes!

    But, if it’s done right and real value is brought to the OPTED-IN recipients of the text messages, then this could work. Gonna keep my eyes on what’s happening with mobile, for sure.

    Thanks for the mention of my post, Phil.