Sunday, March 8, 2009

Stratification-inducing marketing

If you're a Cablevision Systems subscriber in Brooklyn, the Bronx, or some parts of New Jersey, there's a good chance that you will start seeing different television commercials than your neighbor. That is, if your neighbor is a different ethnicity or gender, makes more or less money than you, or has more or fewer kids or pets than you:
Beginning with 500,000 homes in Brooklyn, the Bronx and some New Jersey areas, Cablevision will use its targeting technology to route ads to specific households based on data about income, ethnicity, gender or whether the homeowner has children or pets.

The technology requires no hardware or installation in a subscriber’s home, so viewers may not realize they are seeing ads different from a neighbor’s. But during the same show, a 50-something male may see an ad for, say, high-end speakers from Best Buy, while his neighbors with children may see one for a Best Buy video game.
One advertiser's dream is a sociologist's nightmare. An already socially stratified country will become even more so when the goods and services they see will predetermined based on their ethnic or socioeconomic background. 

And then there is the privacy issue, such as how data-gathering Experian puts together their lists of who gets what ad:
Experian has data on individuals that it collects through public records, registries and other sources. It matches the name and address of the subscriber to what it knows about them, and assigns demographic characteristics to households. (The match is a blind one: advertisers do not know what name and address they are advertising to, Cablevision executives said.)

Advertisers can also give their existing customer lists to Experian, and Experian can make matches — so G.M., for example, could direct an ad based on who already owns a G.M. car.
We already see user-targeted ads, based on current and past browsing patterns and words showing up in the page to which you've navigated (which is why that embarrassing Korea dating site always pops up at Marmot's Hole). Korean advertisers already utilize that and I have no doubt that Korean cable providers are interested in this type of technology, too. 

It could be useful, in fact, if information and services geared toward English speakers, Japanese speakers, English teachers, etc., is disseminated more efficiently. But at the same time, this could only ossify the isolation these communities already experience. 

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