I've sort of written about this in Campaign (over here) but I don't think I quite got what I meant. So here's another version.
One of the perpetual interactive marketing memes is the idea that somehow, one day, we'll make marketing that's so relevant and so well targeted that it'll stop being advertising and become pure and delightful information. This idea has been re-ignited by the advertising plans of the various social networks; using what they know about their users to enable more effective targeting.
I've always just assumed this was true. This was going to happen. Bound to, it makes so much sense. But then, this evening, I had another thought. Because there are some prototypes for this kind of activity already knocking around. And they're working really, really badly.
Here's what I was thinking:
For this super-target advertising idea to work you need to know a lot about the individual you're talking to. You need to know their interests. What they do. What they buy. What they like and don't like.
The kind of information you might get from a blog. That might be the kind of rich but unstructured information you'd be hoping to mine.
And, if it's going to work, it's presumably going to work best for high-cost, high-specificity items. Things that it's worth spending some effort on marketing to exactly the right person, in exactly the right way. So not baked beans. But maybe high-end technology or services like conferences.
I think you might have worked out where I'm going.
Because it strikes me, that, if this perfect marketing-disappearing-itself stuff is going to happen it should be emerging in the interactions between people who've shared a lot of information about themselves and people who have a lot of interest in reaching them effectively. It should be happening in 'blogger outreach'. And is that going well? No, it's not.
There's a lot of information about me on this blog. I get lots of emails about conferences I'm going to want to attend, new advertising I'm going to love, and new websites I definitely need to check out. And is this stuff transmuting from spam into information as I share more and more information about myself? No. It's not. Because most (not all, I do have to emphasise not all) of the people emailing me cannot be arsed to think, for one second, about who they're emailing. It's mostly just spam.
And, what's both worse and more interesting is that the people who can be arsed to do a little bit of research send even more annoying and frustrating emails. They plunge into a kind of direct marketing uncanny valley where the more desperately they try to personalise their message the more I'm reminded that they're not really my friend. The more 'personal' information they utilise the more it freaks me out. (But again, not always, and maybe it's in the 'not always' where salvation lies, but I doubt it.)
And this is a person doing this, not an algorithm. This is someone who's going to email maybe 1000 people about their conference or website or whatever. They've got common sense. They can read my blog and understand it. (To the extent that anyone can.) And they're mostly delivering pointless spam. And yet it seems we think that we're clever enough to write genius marketing software that will analyze social network profiles, deduce what folk are interested in and create such targeted and relevant communications that people will be delighted to click on them because they're overwhelmed with their percipience and utility. I'm not sure that'll happen. I suspect we're going to get flashing, dancing, animated equivalents of the mis-spelt welcome message you get on your hotel TV when you check in.