Cambridge Analytica: Hysteria Hyped

 Photo Credit: Huffington Post https://bit.ly/2unxdhe

Photo Credit: Huffington Post https://bit.ly/2unxdhe

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook hysteria. Put aside political preferences and selling of user lists (although emails lists are regularly purchased). Let’s focus on what’s also under assault this week breaking the internet – so-called “psychological warfare,” better known as digital marketing.

That’s right, people are freaking out that they were marketed to and how well the marketing performed. But the reality is that the user targeting and messaging doom and gloom scenario described by the Guardian and genius of Mr. Wylie are actually the norms of modern-day digital marketing. That is, using sophisticated audience targeting and tailored messaging. It happens every day, all the time, all over the world.

Mr. Wylie’s fancy algorithms to find people most likely to click – that’s called data science.  Thousands of companies invest in data science to drive their businesses, maximizing return on investment.  This isn’t just a Facebook, Google, Amazon thing – it’s a way the world works thing.  And 99% of time smart, good people do their best and the right thing for customers and companies.

Ever see one of those “recommended products” sections? How about an email for “products you may also like?” Data science and digital marketing in action. The notion that this is the first time everyone is experiencing this is outrageous. Think about it, everyone complaining about data science today has experienced it many times within the last 24-hrs and had zero issues with it.

Back to Cambridge…it’s Important to understand the way Cambridge used the data isn’t novel or magical. Looking closely at what’s been reported, using the data from 50 million app subscribers accelerated and reduced the cost of what could’ve been closely replicated through traditional digital marketing methodology. Works something like this…

1. Build basic websites, Facebook pages and Instagram profiles. Even launch their own Facebook app instead of buying data!

2. Target users based on numerous political attributes – profile interests, TV shows, celebrities, politicians, geography, etc.

3. Launch political/cultural ads to determine the degree of users’ liberalism or conservatism

4. Measure people’s engagement with the ads then tailor subsequent ads/messaging

It’s that straightforward but would absolutely take some time to be done well.

Furthermore, people are really losing it over how effective ads were. The fact that messaging can be tailored to groups of people is being called “spooky.” But it happens to everyone ALL THE TIME. Every speech. Every meeting. Every ad. Messaging is tailored to the audience. How about the new video where the gentleman describes putting great content out into social media – hello! Social media teams around the globe do that every day. In fact, there’s a huge industry dedicated to communicating effectively called public relations - been around for centuries, leveraged by politicians and companies. Usually people enjoy being told what they want to hear, it’s not seen as offensive or controversial.

The truth is a user would only keep being served ads if he/she liked, clicked, watched ads or visited sites. Stop engaging with ads, stop receiving ads. Which means people are actually upset about their own actions. This is like people complaining about ads for products they liked and bought – think about it.

And, Interestingly, even candy bars are causing a ruckus. The seemingly alarming discovery by Wylie that certain people like Kit Kats, is not rocket science and accessible via the Facebook Audience Insights tool or more slowly via expensive 3rd-party research databases. In fact this author made a similar discovery once that revealed an audience indexed high for frozen yogurt and small pickup trucks/SUVs. Rather than turning this universe-altering finding into something like “Operation Kit Kat” and calling the CIA it became nothing more than Operation Water Cooler topic and a lighthearted way to start meetings. Cool story bro, but we never held photoshoots in front of Chevy Colorados and Toyota Tacomas with people eating Pink Berry (maybe we should have tried that…).

Broken down to its simplest form, here’s a translation from hysteria to marketing speak. Ph.D. in rocket science not required.

“Identify people” means create an audience

o   Use your own email database or ad targeting info like demographics, interests, shopping behavior, prior ad engagement

“Ads designed to get a reaction” means strategic messaging and great creative assets

“Sophisticated secret algorithms” means use data to determine people most likely to click

o   Propensity to purchase models for existing customers, scoring (ranking) leads

The right moments” means media strategy and where people are in the funnel

o   Awareness – consideration – likely to purchase

“Get better over time” means measuring results and improving

“Serve ads based on people’s reactions” means behavioral targeting and sequential ads

o   Different messages displayed in a particular sequence

Hopefully this article contributes to quelling the hysteria a bit. In the end, it’s important that we understand what we’re so upset about and look closely at how information is presented to us. Political preference and marketing are obvious causes of angst in this instance. If marketing’s got you down, realize this is the way the world works and has been for quite some time. If it’s politics, understand modern marketing isn’t unique to the right or left. Though content is everywhere and nonstop, you the user still has power over what you decide to click, watch, visit and buy. The game’s not over. You still have a choice. And regarding that choice…there’s an algorithm for that.

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Joseph Nolan is a NYC-based marketing consultant and thought leader with over a decade at major brands in auto, ecommerce, lifestyle and fitness. Opinions are his own. Feedback, article ideas and business inquiries welcomed at joe@jonomkt.com. Learn more at jonomkt.com + @josephjnolan.

 

joseph nolan

Marketing Mojoe, los angeles, ca 90403