A Chicago family recently received a promotional mailer from OfficeMax addressed to “Mike Seay/Daughter Killed in Car Crash/Or Current Business.” The Seay family lost their daughter less than a year earlier.
Including “daughter killed in car crash” wording on the envelope was obviously a mistake, but the issue is far bigger than a typo. Having that sensitive data to begin with reveals the inner workings of data brokers and consumer targeting. This is the ugly side of Big Data. Increasing troves of personal data (including sensitive life stage events) are tracked by data brokers to fuel marketing campaigns. Recent Congressional testimony showed that data brokers even sell lists of rape victims and AIDS patients.
These may be extreme cases, but I think marketers need to clearly draw the line on how they plan to use customer data. In the pursuit of creating relevant advertising, marketers are walking a tricky tightrope on consumer privacy.
Here’s how Macy’s VP of customer strategy, Julie Bernard, framed the issue:
“Consumers are worried about our use of data, but they’re pissed if I don’t deliver relevance… How am I supposed to deliver relevance and magically deliver what they want if I don’t look at the data?”
There’s a legislative movement in the US to limit corporate access to personal data. However government regulation ultimately plays out, I think there’s an opportunity for marketers to take the high road.
As Julie Bernard puts it, “I could just track every phone that came into Macy’s without announcing to people. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences navigating personal data in marketing.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)