Friday Forecast: Privacy, Security & The Ghosts of '1984'

by Colleen Ferrier and Rick Petry on May 26, 2017 12:38:46 PM Consumer Behavior, Trends


The ramping up of allusions to George Orwell’s legendary dystopian novel 1984 really began in earnest when Edward Snowden revealed the degree to which the American government was surveilling its citizens. But since Donald Trump assumed the office of the United States presidency, such references to the literary classic have revolved more around the notion of Thought Police and Thought Crimes and the idea that the powers that be are manipulating a narrative in order to deceive the public. From the Russian meddling in our election to the recent firing of FBI Director James Comey, to the petty disagreements over the size of inaugural crowds, the public is decidedly cautious, even worried, that Big Brother is not only watching us, but engaged in a kind of nefarious puppeteering that threatens our civil liberties and even our way of life.

Amid this maelstrom of controversy, issues of public privacy and what rights marketers should have and not have swirled. For example, your Friday Forecasters awoke yesterday to a breathless segment on Fox News warning viewers about Google Attribution – a new analytics program that attempts to tie the effectiveness of online advertising with – horror of horrors! – shopping behavior at brick-and-mortar retail stores. According to the report, Google will have access to some 70 percent of your offline purchase behavior through credit and debit card data, a situation that the pundits insinuated was a worrisome invasion of privacy.  

As advertising professionals, we suggest that what such an argument really boils down to is the tradeoff between privacy and relevancy. In more specific terms, amid a world of countless choice, are consumers willing to share information with marketers so that the latter may target the former in ways that are potentially more meaningful to the buying public? It is not too much of a stretch to argue that if consumers are unwilling to share such data, that goods and services will ultimately cost more because of the inefficiency and attendant costs of advertising in an omni-channel world absent of such insight. Further, what is really at risk if some marketer knows that you prefer IZOD to Polo Ralph Lauren? Are the fashion police really going to come and raid your closet? The response from many is simply that such a reality is unsettling. One of our spouses, for example, becomes “creeped out” when a pair of shoes follows her around the internet that she spied on the Nordstrom website; it’s as if she can hear footsteps.

Her objection may very well be a manifestation of the fact that we have migrated from a world of marketing driven by an interruptive advertising model, to one which relies increasingly on willing participation in the form of opting in, social media, mass customization, and the like. Therefore, anything we are subjected to unwillingly feels intrusive. And while it’s true that mechanisms such as Google Attribution give each of us choice in the form of privacy settings, the ability to set them isn’t always easy and such policies are often in flux. That’s why it’s incumbent upon marketers to make it as transparent and simple as possible for consumers to flex their will.

Life, as we were vividly reminded this week, is a series of tradeoffs. The horrible mass murder that occurred in Manchester, England is a proverbial siren call for more government surveillance – a harsh reality that flies in the face of our individual desire to be free of Big Brother-like scrutiny. As far as we’re concerned, ISIS propaganda should be treated like child pornography and expunged wherever and whenever it occurs. Some would call this assertion a violation of the First Amendment or the proverbial slippery slope. We call it common sense; turn off the spigot and you turn the tide. Alas, as with any privacy argument, we give up something in the hopes of gaining something else, “Orwellian” underpinnings aside.

There is a certain poignancy and irony in the idea that the very thing we fear will dehumanize us could be the salvation of humanity. But any allusions to 1984 should recognize that certain common behaviors are turning us into Big Brother. People think nothing of whipping out their smartphones and recording others unsuspectingly at the shooter’s whim – often in a spirit of self-righteousness or out of a desire to capture something that will garner the videographer attention by posting content on social media. It’s the apotheosis of “do as I say, not as I do.” As for Thought Police? Look at what is happening to suppress the free exchange of ideas on our college campuses. Again, it isn’t necessarily the government policing thought; it’s us.

Each of us is a brand adorned with labels representing social, political, and material choices. The degree to which we are willing to let corporations and governments access to knowledge that empowers them to exercise influence – both positive and negative – over the badges we wear will likely be one of the great unfolding debates of our time. As Orwell put it, “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” Nonetheless we ask you to consider: what is happiness, but a twinkle in the eye of the beholder?

 About the Authors

Colleen & Rick.jpgColleen Ferrier is a seasoned direct marketing expert who specializes in guiding integrated direct-to-consumer campaigns with an acute focus on ROI. Her broad experience has included management oversight of marketing, operations, media, and international distribution. The campaigns she has been instrumental in helping lead to success across her 15+ year career include Pillow Pets, Little Giant Ladder, Dream Lites, and Stompeez. Ferrier has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Augusta University, Georgia.

Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO/DoubleFlex. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with a Concentration in Marketing and Sales from Marylhurst University.

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