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Monday, November 26, 2007

"I Am Not a Target Market" ... Grokked.

Yes, overeducated Gen-Xers, can you believe it, it's been 16 years since Douglas Coupland Published Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. And you've been gainfully employed for probably 10 of those years. And cruelly busy, not slacking as you once did, for at least five of those ten.

So you might have forgotten that Chapter 4 of the Gen X book was titled "I am Not a Target Market." That vague protest stuck in my mind. From time to time I've wondered exactly what it meant, whether it was a vain sort of protest, etc. And I also wondered how in the heck could I convey that sentiment to others, if I myself couldn't quite get a handle on it, especially in the midst of an industry (online marketing) where we're supposed to figure out our targets and hit them with increasing precision.

I think Rohit Bhargava hits the nail on the head in his post Why the Future of Online Advertising is About Identity. But by "identity" he can't possibly mean "my identity as a woman" (definitely inaccurate for myself and Bhargava, but I think you get my actual point); or "my identity as a person who lives in X neighborhood, age xx, with x income". By sheer statistics, yes, maybe you could predict that I'd be more likely to want to buy beer, razor blades, an iPod, etc., than someone else. But using that logic, you'd include my name and address in a direct mail blast to receive a cash prize for test driving the glorious Volkswagen Phaeton sedan with the V10 engine. Huh? Now granted, like many small boys, I want a lot of things. I want to be a rocket ship pilot! But no way in hell I'm buying a Phaeton. Nice try, though?

Demographics might be predictive, and marketers would be hard-pressed to give them up. But they can also be a little bit insulting. So what to do about that? I mean, beyond sprinkling in a number of "younger looking" folks in the brochures for the luxury retirement condos sent to someone because they are, well, getting old.

So the real problem, if you self-identify only in the advertiser camp, and never ever think of yourself as a human, is that demographics just isn't correct often enough. It isn't as efficient as, say, search marketing, where you know exactly what someone is looking for. And the latter wouldn't be as efficient as, say, combining the two, and also following them around and finding out about their behavior, and then following their friends around and cross-referencing that behavior. Hmm, come to think of it I think I see some pretty interesting parallels between how they catch terrorists, and how advertisers think about selling an energy drink to a 21-year-old Ivy Leaguer.

So toss out those anthropology courses you took in that Ivy League school. Nope, the real trick to identity is figuring out how real people *think*. Identity, not just demographics.

Ethnography? We'll hire those professors to unlock the meaning of why someone should buy quilted toilet paper. When we run out of those, we'll find some pretentious French-American guy, who can pass for educated.

So: there's the rub. What does "identity" really mean, to an advertiser waiting for those last barriers of ignorance about their prospects to fall? It means an even deeper, more data-intensive approach; as Bhargava puts it, "the future of online advertising will be about enabling an extreme targeting..." ... and of course, we're talking about Facebook and its latest rumblings about such an offering.

So: advertisers didn't just get nicer, and advertising pundits didn't really decide this week that they want to get to know the real you. As before, they want to sell more stuff, better, by knowing more about you than you would probably care to share, if you understood the value you were transferring to them. In light of all that, will we see any type of rebellion?

Well, we're sort of seeing some now, but it's at the same genteel level of Coupland, the chronicler of our loss of independent identities as non-consumers. The Coupland who himself gently reported on the spectacle, for considerable profit. I think a lot of us are chroniclers much like Coupland. Ironic to the end. Profitable, yet conscious of the irony in that.

I just ordered Coupland's next-to-latest. For good luck. After working hard on the Biggest Cyber Monday Ever (though when you're in my business, that's Mostly For Other People), I had to get a little something for myself.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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