More Targeting, Please

Forgive me if I seem a little jittery and distracted, but . . . I’m being cyber-stalked by a pair of shoes. It’s like an updated Twilight Zone episode. The eerie part is, I don’t really want it to stop—I want more advertising to behave this way. A brief explanation might be in order.

It all started when I was browsing (during my lunch hour, of course) and lingered over a line of pricey, old-school-but-with-Air-Soles wingtip oxfords designed by Cole Haan. Later (on my afternoon break), I was reading a techie site—Slashdot, perhaps. My eyes strayed to the right-hand border, and there they were again—standing out from a column of ads packed sardine-tight, that same pair of Cole Haan shoes, their supple leather tongues beckoning me from behind untied laces to click and order. Shocked and bewildered, I switched the browser over to a political site, Daily Kos. There—just below an unflattering photo of the Republican contenders for the White House—was that accursed footwear from hell. Only then did I comprehend that I was in the crosshairs of a crack marketing algorithm I will never escape without making a purchase.

As days passed, the shock of role reversal from hunter to hunted faded to resignation. Sooner or later I’ll buy the shoes, and by that act achieve a détente with my implacable foe, Zappos. But you know what? All things considered, I, for one, welcome our new marketing overlords. Which entails another explanation.

There’s lots of talk these days about “cutting the cord” to gain freedom from greedy, rock-stupid cable television monopolies. Personally, I come from a long line of video addicts, and we’re not cutting any cords in the foreseeable future.

But we would like our cable service to be cheaper. And 100% on-demand accessible. And one more thing: I’m old enough to remember an article in Popular Mechanics about the then-coming cable television “revolution,” whose author declared monthly subscription fees would mean “no more commercials.” Okay, the author was also picturing himself in a flying car when he made that prediction. And/or he was just high.

Back in the real world, a 60-minute show is going to include 20 or more minutes of marketing as long as there are displays to light up and eyeballs to gaze at them. Given that, I want my ads to be like those ubiquitous shoes: personalized … targeted to my demographic, constantly updated by an AI that shrewdly analyzes my viewing and online history—or failing that, at least about goods, services, and civic duties that are actually available to me!

I live in New York City. We don’t have any fast-food restaurants called “Sonic Burger” or “Red Robin” here. The actors in these strangely flat, alien ads exude Deep South, though Google tells me these chains have limited extra-urban locations in the tri-state area. But I have to point out that many New Yorkers don’t own cars, and even if they do, are not about to pile in and drive to Clifton or Bayonne, New Jersey, or take the Long Island Railroad to Hempstead, Long Island, in order to experience off-brand fast food. Someone is wasting his money and my time displaying these ads in my zip code. Question: How hard would it be to fix that?

As a New York City resident, I’m forbidden by law from voting in other states. But every night I watch a Connecticut woman who used to own a pro wrestling syndicate and wants to be a U.S. Senator berate her opponent—who apparently has no money to run ads in his own defense, or else is smart enough to run them in his own state. In any case, I can’t vote for her and definitely will not be making any donations.

Same story in New Jersey: A kindly looking middle-aged man wants to be re-elected to the Senate. His opponent doesn’t seem to have any cash for ads, either. Hey, if resembling Richie Cunningham’s dad on Happy Days means good things happening in D.C., I’m all for you, guy. But how about pitching to your own constituency next time?

Will it be privacy-invasive when, as happens to Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report, signs call to us by name as we walk by them? Probably yes. But as long as the signs are pimping a product for which I have a yen, I can only echo a former president’s challenge to the makers of improvised explosive devices in an overseas adventure he himself improvised: “Bring ’em on!”

Author: John Wahmeyer


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