retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a piece about political ad targeting that suggests - if you read between the lines - the degree to which the technology could be applied to campaigns for retailers and suppliers.

Here's the set-up:

"Over the last few weeks, tens of thousands of voters in the Detroit area who watch streaming video services were shown different local campaign ads pegged to their political leanings.

"Digital consultants working for Representative Darrin Camilleri, a Democrat in the Michigan House who is running for State Senate, targeted 62,402 moderate, female — and likely pro-choice — voters with an ad promoting reproductive rights.

"The campaign also ran a more general video ad for Mr. Camilleri, a former public-school teacher, directed at 77,836 Democrats and Independents who have voted in past midterm elections. Viewers in Mr. Camilleri’s target audience saw the messages while watching shows on Lifetime, Vice and other channels on ad-supported streaming services like Samsung TV Plus and LG Channels.

"Although millions of American voters may not be aware of it, the powerful data-mining techniques that campaigns routinely use to tailor political ads to consumers on sites and apps are making the leap to streaming video. The targeting has become so precise that next door neighbors streaming the same true crime show on the same streaming service may now be shown different political ads — based on data about their voting record, party affiliation, age, gender, race or ethnicity, estimated home value, shopping habits or views on gun control."

The Times goes on to point out that "the quick proliferation of the streaming political messages has prompted some lawmakers and researchers to warn that the ads are outstripping federal regulation and oversight.

"For example, while political ads running on broadcast and cable TV must disclose their sponsors, federal rules on political ad transparency do not specifically address streaming video services. Unlike broadcast TV stations, streaming platforms are also not required to maintain public files about the political ads they sold.

"The result, experts say, is an unregulated ecosystem in which streaming services take wildly different approaches to political ads."

KC's View:

To be clear about my biases, I think what is described here reflects so much that is wrong about American politics - a gerrymandered system that favors candidates who talk only to their bases, rather than having to appeal across party lines through negotiation and compromise.  If you only talk to the people who agree with you - if you only have to talk to the people who agree with you - to get elected, it undermines the system.  I also hate that our system allows for any lack of transparency when it comes to the people and companies that donate to candidates or causes either directly or indirectly.

But let's get beyond the politics described in the piece.

If two people in the same neighborhood are watching the same show on a streaming service, but one of them is a Whole Foods shopper and the other is a WinCo shopper, there's no reason in the world, based on this article, that the ads they see can't be tailored to their behavior.  You'd think that taken to the next level, the ads even could be targeted so that they would take into account past shopping habits - vegetarians wouldn't see video of steak being sliced, for example.

It seems likely that we're going to see more of this as streaming services like Netflix that traditionally have been ad-free develop new service tiers that cost users less money because they feature commercials.  

This may be one of those cases in which, while the technology works against the best interests of democracy (or at least what I believe are the best interests of democracy), it could be really effective in the conduct of commerce and the creation of greater brand relevance and resonance in the hearts and minds of shoppers.