A recent article on Forbes magazine’s website tells the no-longer-surprising story of Target stores in the US knowing a teenager was pregnant before her father did.
For those disinterested in clicking on the link, Target stores in the US track every purchase an individual makes on their credit card, and from analysing the purchases, they can tell not only if a lady is pregnant, but also the sex of the child and the probable due date. They then use this information to target (no pun intended) expectant mothers with direct mail offers for lotions, nappies, strollers and so on.
What is freaking people out is that they can predict the due date with such accuracy. Mothers were getting perfectly-timed “Congratulations on the arrival of your baby boy” messages without ever telling Target they were expecting, or that it was a boy… all from analysing the type of lotions and cotton-balls they were buying.
Now a perfect stranger rifling though your trash and making deductions about your life from the refuse is enough cause for a restraining order! Yet when a multi-national organisation does it, and does it so well they have to hide the evidence, its referred to as a convenience, as marketing-related activity and therefore justifiable and legal.
This is far from an isolated case, and Target are not the only ones doing it. And this technology is also available for small local corner stores as well as large chains.
I raise this story for two reasons:
1. To help convince my clients and future clients that data mining is powerful, scalable, ubiquitous and you will be left behind if you do not embrace it in some fashion very quickly.
2. To convince my friends and family that data mining is powerful, scalable, ubiquitous and if you want to maintain a comfortable level of privacy in future, you need to take active steps to achieve it.
The future of marketing has already arrived – and some of it is scary. You don’t see it yet because it’s hiding behind the old familiar brands in the shop window…