Data Driven Marketing – Cool & Convenient or Creepy?

IMG_3975Being a part of our consumer world today means buying things.  Whether those things are necessities like groceries, little luxuries like oil changes, or bigger luxuries like marathon registrations, we earn money and then spend (and save!) it to continue enjoying our current existence.

On the other side of each of these purchasing events are companies that are continually trying to get us to buy more and more.  One weapon in their arsenal?  Data.  On us.  And it’s being deployed more and more against us by marketing teams.  Quite simply, the more companies know about our buying habits (or really about virtually any aspect of our lives), the better marketers can understand (and profit from!) our wants and needs as we participate in our consumer society.


Data Driven Marketing Is Now Everywhere

A few years ago it wasn’t uncommon for big companies to be using these methods.  With the ability to track our purchases over months and even years, they would have predictive analytic departments within their corporate headquarters to determine what to offer us next to increase our spending in their stores.

For some awesome insight into these practices, check out Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business where he gets unprecedented access to Target Corp’s predictive analytics department.  Read our review of The Power of Habit here.


But Now The Little Guys Are Getting In, Too!

Like Our Local Car Dealer

When we first got my car, we took it to the local dealer to regular maintenance like oil changes and service.  It was convenient and they actually had a decent rewards program that got us 10% off sticker prices and would occasionally email us coupons.  When the only honest service advisor left, I got sick of dealing with the sleazy ones and my car hasn’t been in there for over a year and a half.

But I still get emails from the dealership service department that read:

“Your current mileage: 59,841

You are due for your 60,000 mile service.”

And they were eerily accurate, to within 100 miles or so on the odometer.  (Well, at least until I started biking to work and Mr PoP started driving my car most of the time.)  Even a year after I stopped taking my car there for service, those emails were still nearly spot on with their mileage estimates.

Or Road Race Organizers

I like to run.  And a few times a year, I pay for the privilege of running 26 miles with a bunch of other folks.  (Call me crazy, but it’s fun!)

The thing is, there are a lot of races out there (more and more all the time according to WSJ), so the ones you’ve run before will do whatever they can to get you to register for the same race again the next year.  But a recent email promoting a race I’ve run before went a bit over the top.  Right in the email reminding me that race registration is open is a big ol’ picture of me, taken at last year’s race, right around mile marker 8 or 9.

For a split second I was horrified that this (not all that flattering) picture of me was potentially sent out to thousands of people.  I know I signed away rights to any images from the race when I registered (part of the deal), but really?  This was not a good picture.  Definitely not race marketing quality at all.

You see, there’s a difference between what you think you look like when you run and what you actually look like when you run.  I’ve seen race pictures of myself.  I know I’m a lot closer in looks to the bottom picture here than the top.
And that’s when it hit me.  This picture email was only sent to me.  What they surely did was use their database of photos, emails, and past race numbers for a really spiffy mail merge sending past participants a picture of themselves happily running the race.  Wouldn’t more people sign up again if reminded (oh so vividly) of how much fun they had the last time?


Has A Line Been Crossed?

I don’t know about you guys, but it feels to me like it’s one thing when Target sends me Colgate coupons knowing it’s the brand I buy most often, and feels like another entirely when a car dealer is keeping track of how many miles I drive or a race organizer is sending me pictures of my gross sweaty self.  (Mr PoP – The picture’s actually not that gross, it’s very clearly the early part of the race.  You should see her at mile 26!)

To me, those are just a bit too personal.  But maybe some people love these types of marketing?  The car dealer’s emails are convenient reminders and the race email with your picture in it is “too cool!”


What do you think?  Is data driven marketing cool and convenient or just plain creepy?  Where do you draw the line?

46 comments to Data Driven Marketing – Cool & Convenient or Creepy?

  • It is becoming increasingly personal.

    Although this sometimes feels like a step too far into our personal matters, I suppose its also good (for both me and the sellers) that I receive advertising for things I actually want or need rather than for something that I have no interest in. recently posted..The price to slice – should we pay supermarkets to slice our produce?My Profile

    • Personally I like it better when I see advertisements that I know I have no interest in – much easier not to be phased by the marketing that way.

  • trudy

    Creepy. And the news about the NSA programs – all Internet traffic, all the exteriors (and I assume they can read the interiors) of postal mail, all telephone calls – that’s not only a massive invasion of privacy but all the tools needed for Totalitarianism. Then I read the DEA is doing the same thing. I think the country is broken beyond repair.

  • Meg sends me these e-mails with suggestions of yarns, and they’re invariably ones I’ve looked at on the website. They’re definitely not just deducing this from past purchases, because if I go browse something completely out of character, like puce fun fur, it’ll be in the next e-mail.

    Amazon is the master at this. The recommendation engine is so good, I used to use their site to build research paper bibliographies when I was in school.
    Meg recently posted..Consumerism Thursday: The Incredible Shrinking Woman Drowns in BrisketMy Profile

    • Amazon does the same thing! If I look at a banana slicer (or something equally ridiculous) on their site, I’ll get served up adds for the banana slicer on other webpages until the next time I clear my cache.

  • That is crazy! I would be very uncomfortable seeing a picture of myself on promotional material from another race. Creepy!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Quit Your Day Job: How to Start a BlogMy Profile

    • CincyCat

      You may know this already, but sometimes the “fine print” on race entry forms basically gives the race organizers permission to use your image in future marketing efforts.

  • I honestly don’t have incredibly strong feelings about it. I know people get up in arms about facebook’s privacy policies, but you’re willingly giving your information to a company. That’s a choice. Now I know that there are times where you’re not really aware of the information they’re taking, and I can understand being upset by it. Personally I don’t spend much time worrying about it, but maybe I’m naive.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Is the Mortgage Interest Deduction For Real?My Profile

  • I’m not too concerned about data driven marketing. I don’t like forcing impulse buys, but personally, I don’t buy impulsively. I do like the fact that many of the ads I see online today are tailored to me. Anything that’s not is more like wasted space if you ask me. Thanks for the interesting question!
    Joshua R. ( recently posted..How To Make A Budget Spreadsheet That Makes Budgeting Fun!My Profile

  • I think that companies that cross the line pay for it through the consumers reaction. I wouldn’t find it cool to see my picture on marketing material (even if it’s just sent to me), and I don’t want an email from my car dealer telling me they’re tracking my mileage.

    I love the phrase, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Marketers sometimes forget that…..
    Joe @ Stacking Benjamins recently posted..My Wife Is Pregnant — Is It The Right Time To Purchase Life Insurance?My Profile

    • “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

      Totally agree with you Joe. The sad thing is, I was really considering running this race again and the marketing has definitely put me off it a bit… dilemma.

  • Wow! That’s crazy…a picture of you. They may have crossed a line here!
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..Master’s in Dispute ResolutionMy Profile

  • Lol, I love that picture, I’m pretty much the latter, too. 😉 I do think that’s pretty creeper on both counts, and it would make me more inclined to not go there.
    anna recently posted..Having the Ramos LegsMy Profile

  • I lean towards the creepy side. I’ve gotten the same e-mails/brochures from dealers, and I don’t even own the car anymore! If I got a picture of myself in a race, I’d probably never run that race again, and tell friends (also very privacy conscious) not to as well.
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Detailed Financial Picture – September 2013My Profile

    • Well, at least the dealers didn’t know when you had sold the car. Now THAT would have been creepy!

      • trudy

        Years ago in another state, I got a letter from Ford about a manufacturing defect safety problem in my car, which was 20-30 years old at the time. I was amazed that they had obtained my address when I’d moved from state to state during that time. In retrospect, I think they must have gotten the info from searching for affected Ford models from state motor vehicle registries. It was a weird feeling, though.

  • CincyCat

    I’m in a Kroger marketing area, and my husband has worked in their IT department for over 10 years. Believe me, their IT department does not care who is buying what brand of TP (they do not have that much free time), but the executives & buyers sure care about shopping habits, because then they can make smarter decisions on what/how much to keep in stock at specific stores, shelf layouts (based on items are typically purchased “together”), etc.

    Not only that, but after several years of data gathering, they can now send out personalized coupons for items that I actually BUY – including store-brand items, fresh produce, meats and dairy, and personalized deals sent to my shopper card. Frankly, I am not seeing this as a “bad” thing since I save money, and my shopping trip is more efficient.

    • The personal shopper cards weird me out a bit. How are people to know they don’t work the other way?

      If you ALWAYS buy X at every trip to the grocery store, why would the store give you a discount on it? You’re going to buy it no matter what. So they’ll send the discount to the customers that only SOMETIMES buy X or NEVER buy X to see what price level it takes to incentivize them to buy it. Right? When the discounts are personalized they are hidden, so you wouldn’t know that you didn’t receive the discount most other shoppers were eligible for.

      • CincyCat

        Kroger’s system is set up to reward loyal shoppers and improve the shopping experience. They really do want to give you discounts if you “always” buy something. Why is that? Market research clearly shows that customers are more “annoyed” than “intrigued” when they get coupons for things they don’t buy on a regular basis. Sure, there are some manufacturers that try to lure folks away from a competitor’s product (this is how the checkout feed coupon system works), but that is not what Kroger’s shopper card system is set up to do. Indeed, there is no benefit to Kroger (as the retailer) to give you a discount on a product you are unlikely to buy, as that would not incent you to make your next grocery trip at one of their stores.

  • Data-driven gives me the creeps. Mind your own business Mega Corps…actually, I guess they are…

    Predictive Analytics, is that the one with Tom Cruise?
    No Waste recently posted..Net WorThursday – August 2013My Profile

  • That “What I actually look like while running” brought out the chuckles in me =D hilarious!
    Getting back to the issue, its creepy to say the least and here to stay for the foreseable future. As technologies get refined we might be seeing more and more of this stuff.
    Where do we draw the line, its debatable honestly, any marketing material though that bears my image whether targeted at me or not surely has crossed some sort of line.
    Simon @ Modest Money recently posted..MBNA Smart Cash MasterCard Review – MBNA Cash Back Credit CardMy Profile

  • Mama Pop

    Ok, an unasked and unanswered question here is “What if your picture did look like the girl in the top photo?” Really, how would you have reacted if the email had included a very flattering and beautiful photo of you running in that race that Mr. PoP could proudly frame and display on his desk at work? What if one of the advertised perks of that race was a free, professional quality keepsake photo? Instead, you were shocked with an image that you won’t even use to line Kitty Pop’s litter box.

    I think the real problem is the unexpected and unflattering nature of the email. As this kind of marketing continues to grow, we will probably become desensitized. After all, Web 3.0 is all about the personalization of the internet experience and that is already well underway.

  • Maybe it’s because I’m lazy, but I enjoy the fact that they can target advertise for me. I don’t have to be bombarded with items that I think are utter garbage. I’ve also come across some very interesting things because ads can be tailored to me. An example was an obstacle course/mud run 5k. This was when the idea was first kicking off and there wasn’t a bajillion of them (color runs seem to be the new trend in 5k twists).
    Micro recently posted..August Mission BriefingMy Profile

  • Brace yourself for a Google World. Google knows what you buy (search and tracking cookies), where you live (maps), who you talk to (Gmail), where you go (GPS tracking on Android phones) and on and on.

    Is it time to retreat to cabin in Saskatchewan?!?
    Mr. 1500 recently posted..Thursday Anti-Rant: Life is Still GoodMy Profile

  • You two never fail to crack me up.

    I find it creepy most of the time, but admit I do sometimes appreciate it. I know that if I’m in the market for something I can do a bit of googling, and then every company that sells something similar will show up in advertisements in the sidebar of blogs and websites I frequently read. Ultimately I stumble on something that is exactly what I was liking for.

    It’s a catch-22 though. The slippery slope is what concerns me. A little bit of good inevitably is crushed by greed.
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  • […] Our Pennies had an interesting post on Data Driven Marketing. I’m currently reading about how marketers sell to us and how this actually makes us […]

  • I just hate it. I absolutely detest, for example, finding images of Crate & Barrel furniture popping up on every website I visit for days after an idle perusal of C&B’s site.

    To my mind, it’s spying. It’s no more acceptable than having the federal government spying on me. What I do in my private daily life is no one’s business, and it’s ESPECIALLY not the business of some accursed marketer.

    It’s the sort of thing that makes me daydream of buying a shack out in the desert and going 100% off the grid.

    More seriously, though: it drives me to lying about my name, address, and telephone number. I refuse to give retailers my e-mail or phone number, I have a fake phone number printed on my checks, and if a retailer such as Safeway demands that I divulge private information to get an annoying membership card in exchange for fair prices, I lie myself stupid — Safeway thinks I go by my deceased dog’s name and that my phone number is the same as the local Safeway corporate offices’ number. I deeply resent being forced to lie to protect my privacy, and now that Sprouts has opened a nice new store down the street, I hardly ever shop at Safeway anymore — specifically because of the da^^ned red card…
    Funny about Money recently posted..“Have a Great Week”…gimme a break!My Profile

  • I find it very creepy that some marketing professionals know more about me than my family/friends do.
    Lisa E. recently posted..Links Lisa Likes – 9/7/13My Profile

  • Karen

    I avoid google/gmail for this reason. Although my pictures are on their site until I find a new service (and time and motivation to move all of my photos).

    As far as the race email, I’m sure I received one with my photo from the event photographer if not the race itself. While I may not like the photo chosen, it doesn’t bother me. Registering electronically ties my email and bib number together, creating an account. A lot of people are interested in their race photos so I don’t think it’s reaching too much to send a race photo within the email.