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Are marketers ruining the internet?

Marketers have the momentum to change the way we target customers and as a bonus we contribute in saving our democracy. How exciting is that?

"If a business is built on misleading users on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.”

This is a quote from Tim Cook’s recent speech at the 2021 CDCP conference. Without mentioning Facebook by name Tim Cook criticizes the social network for the way it collects and uses data from its users. It’s commonly known that Apple and Facebook have a different view on privacy. Apple turned the protection of their customers privacy into a core value.

Facebook, on the other hand, pretty much relies on user data to make money. The more data it collects the more effectively it can sell targeted ads.

As such, Facebook offers its services to advertisers around the globe. A few weeks ago, at the Consumer Electronics Show, marketing executives from TransUnion, UM, Disney (among others) also shared their view on the hot topic data and advertising.

Key takeaway of the discussion was that marketers need to use the ‘right’ data to target consumers. Which is, in my opinion, kind of an obvious conclusion. Platforms like Facebook offer the occasion to target people at a very personal level but that doesn’t mean that advertisers have to rise to the occasion. Maybe it’s time for marketers to thoroughly think about the concept ‘right’ data?

Or as Tim Cook puts it: "which philosophy do you want to pursue? Do you want a business that serves your customers? Or one that takes advantage of customers to serve your business?"

Today, the targeted advertising business model is an important revenue stream for social network platforms, search engines and publishers. The targeted advertising business model incentivizes such companies to collect as much data as possible about what their users do on the platforms. This information is used in data modelling to serve ads to specific audiences and individuals. As a user of these platforms I might find targeted ads annoying but some experts even consider them as a true danger to democracy.

Safiya Noble, associate professor at the University of California, LA and author of Algorithms of Oppression (NYU Press, 2018) describes the negative consequences of targeted advertising on democracy.

“Advertising’s shift to digital has cannibalized the news media’s revenue, thus weakening the entire public sphere. It incentivizes media organizations to produce articles that perform well at the expense of material that educates, entertains or holds governments accountable.”

I don’t think digital marketers ever considered their jobs as potentially harmful to society. But maybe it’s time for all of us involved in the advertising industry, to rethink the way we use data to target consumers.

Marketers should care about the data they use. They should make conscious choices about the type of data they use and how they use it. A good touchstone is the customer’s interest. After all, (part of) the mission of marketing is to involve the customer into accomplishing the mission of a company (Marketing 4.0 - Kotler, Kartajaya and Setiawan – John Wiley & Sons, 2016).

At MultiMinds we believe data should improve customer experience. In other words, if your customer doesn’t benefit from the way he’s being targeted it shouldn’t happen. That’s why we always try to put the end-user or customer in the center of the projects we execute for our clients. We do this by challenging the business objectives and designing data use cases with the customer requirements in mind.

Very often we experience a conflict in interests while applying this approach. Short term objectives do not always align with the best possible customer experience. But we are still convinced this is the best way to act to preserve the precious value of data and to make sure targeted advertising will not negatively backfire to marketing efforts.

So, we as marketers have the momentum to change the way we target customers and as a bonus we contribute in saving our democracy. How exciting is that?