TOC Death of the marketer? Your Turn

March 10, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, we found the recent report of the Federal Trade Commission on behavioral advertising offered some hope. Indeed two commissioners out of four seem to realize self-regulation by the advertising industry may not work as advertised. As Stephanie Clifford reports (*), we are about to find out. "By summer, Cablevision plans to have [targeted advertising] in 500,000 households."

With all due respect to the two professions concerned, a good reporter behaves like a trial lawyer leading a cross-examination. Their art is to ask impressionistic questions and get reluctant witnesses to unwittingly paint the truth. Let's step back and admire Stephanie Clifford's big picture.

"Penetrations have flattened out, and cable companies need a way to grow." By all means, David K. Kline sounds like the head of a big bank four years ago, although currently president of Cablevision's ad unit. "The revenue opportunity [from custom targeting] is enormous." Irwin Gotlieb, the CEO of the media division of WPP Group, only repeats what Google's CEO stated more than two years ago. What it entails is revealed by the marching orders of Michael Kubin, the executive vice-president of technology provider Invidi. "Eventually the company will be able to identify who is watching based not just on what they are viewing, but also how they watch it".

Yet Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, suggests this value creation rests on violating consumers' privacy. "There is a need to show that [custom targeting] can't be reverse-engineered to find the names of the individuals that were watching particular shows." "Television was always big and dumb. Now, hopefully, we can be big and slightly smarter." In his down to earth wisdom, doesn't Seth Haberman, the CEO of Visible World which supplies the technology used by Cablevision, remind you of Willie Sutton? Like everybody else, he needed some money and was smart enough to know where to find it.

As a way to implement "scalable intimacy" with consumers, Mike Troiano is promoting social marketing (**). Perhaps he should add to his list of reasons why the industry is slow to embrace it (***). Forget social networks. What is more intimate than spying over one's every act, unbeknown to the target? Bugs in bedrooms? True, but not as scalable by far. Were it written today, The Firm would befriend a contact at Cablevision, Comcast and Verizon to watch Mitch click on his remote and, thanks to Amazon's new technology, put bookmarks in his e-books.

Do not misunderstand me. I believe Cablevision when it swears "advertisers do not know what name and address they are advertising to". Indeed why sell names when you can rent them. But listen to Michael Kubin. The Company knows. And so does everyone smart enough to watch for an AOL research sample or pay a Pellicano. Like Marc Rotenberg, I "don't have an objection to advertising that is targeted to demographics", but I do object to companies putting consumers at risk while reaping all the profits.

Were the FTC to protect consumers in the name of market fairness, it would fight as the trade unions do to protect train engineers against the plan "to install video cameras that face into the cabs of locomotives", as Katharine Q. Seelye tells us (****). It would force ad networks to share the income with the original data sources, after the class action settled by Google in favor of copyright holders and reported by Noam Cohen (*****).

Long term however, ill gotten gains do not profit. Rather than stealth, Mike Troiano favors engagement. For him mass marketing is doomed by the passing of the Industrial Age. But why stop halfway? Engaging consumers, socially or otherwise, is no marketing at all. Let computers handle order processing, what counts is to listen, speak, convince, face to face, and repeat, all the time. Whether it concerns brands, services, goods, this is what a good salesman does.

While she still gorges herself on us, why not announce the rebirth of the salesman after the death of the marketer?

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ........... Your Ad Here, Not There, by Stephanie Clifford (New York Times) - March 4, 2009
  • (**) ......... Manifesto, by Mike Troiano ( - January, 2009
  • (***) ....... The Case Against Social Marketing, by Mike Troiano ( - March 1, 2009
  • (****) ..... People Had to Die Before a Move on Cellphones, Official Laments, by Katharine Q. Seelye (New York Times) - March 5, 2009
  • (*****) ... A Google Search of a Distinctly Retro Kind, by Noam Cohen (New York Times) - March 4, 2009
March 2009
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