Five years ago, Charles Duhigg published an article in the NY Times Magazine about How Companies Learn Your Secrets which featured Target’s success analyzing shopping behavior in order to learn things such as whether or not a particular “guest” is pregnant. Duhigg shared a now-famous anecdote about an irate father who complained that his local Target had been marketing items such as cribs and diapers to his teenage daughter, who to his eventual apologetic chagrin was, as it turns out, pregnant.
Recently, on a program development call for the upcoming Marketing Analytics Conference the “Target Pregnancy Story” came up as it has in so many conversations I’ve had about this topic. This story is often held up as an example of both the power of and risk posed by data-driven marketing practices. Target however, began developing the process that led to this anecdote in 2002, we have had fifteen years to refine both the analytics behind our marketing campaigns and the campaigns themselves.
So, where is the new Target pregnancy story? Why are senior marketers still referencing this dated example? It is time to find some new touchstones and to that end, here are a few suggestions:
- UBER sued for revealing a customer’s affair. Man signs into UBER on his wife’s phone, logs out, but she continues to receive notifications of his trips thus revealing his extra-marital activities. He is now suing UBER for $48 Million.
- Amazon Go Store. Amazon has launched a convenience store right here in Seattle where today’s smart phone carting customer can have the in-store experience without all that pesky human interaction. Yes, this model promises less friction, but does a smart shelf that tracks when you pick up that cupcake, put it back, walk away and then pick it up again really sound less intrusive?
- Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful Campaign. Some days you eat too much ice cream, or you find yourself tagged in an unflattering photo, or your hair has its own ideas about style and you may want to share these moments over social media. Twitter and Dove partnered to ensure that anyone sharing negative feelings about their looks received an auto-slap of positivity whether they wanted it or not.
With the proliferation of location-based marketing, AI driven bots and live-in interactive interfaces we can look forward to ever-increasing instances of all too knowing brand interactions. Target may have started this conversation by being the EPT of circulars, but data driven marketing will only improve as we continue to call out potential oversteps in this art.