Could marketers be facing personal data blackout? | DMA

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Could marketers be facing personal data blackout?


Back in 2002, director Steven Spielberg brought together a group of experts to help him create a plausible vision of the future for his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story Minority Report. Today, personalised content, programmatic adverts, predictive analytics and an ever-growing Internet of Things demonstrate that this ‘think tank’ accurately predicted many features of the modern world of advertising.

At the end of 2014, ‘digital experience’ company Photon Interactive revealed that it had teamed up with Panasonic to display personalised signage to shoppers in bricks and mortar stores. In 2015, Vice wrote about advances in facial recognition technology and how it may be implemented by brands for advertising. Only last month, the New York Times published a piece about Clear Channel Outdoor, a company that serves adverts based on mobile data collected from the people who pass its billboards.

While we hopefully won’t reach the stage where people are pulling out their eyes, there is also a chance that consumers, tired of relentless and increasingly intrusive marketing, will acknowledge the value of their personal data and take back control. The ‘trade-off’ for supplying brands with their details in exchange for better customer service just doesn’t seem worth it when there are so many unwanted conditions attached that affect their privacy.

Currently, the responsibility of deciding who does what with your data, and where, sits with the customer. However, the ability to make these decisions are often buried in such a way that many simply resign themselves to accepting what brands present them with.

That said, some could argue that a personal data revolution is already happening. At the start of March, the UK Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) revealed that nearly a quarter of British adults use some form of ad blocker (up from 18% in October 2015). With the latest version desktop browser Opera including one built in, this number could well increase.

Elsewhere, Verizon recently received a $1.35 million fine from the Federal Communications Company (FCC) for its use of ‘supercookies’, which the telecommunications company used to track and monetise its customers’ web browsing habits without consent. This has led to the FCC proposing that companies and ISPs be banned from sharing and collecting their customers’ data unless they opt-in.

The current battle between Apple and the FBI also highlights the difficult balance between privacy and security. Even should the tech firm comply with the law enforcement agency, it could well usher in smartphones with far greater levels of encryption to protect their customers’ privacy.

Plus, of course, brands are adjusting to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a forthcoming set of laws that call for increased security measures and stricter guidelines around the handling, sharing and storing of personal data.

Even though it seems certain that the governance of personal data will become stricter, could consumers become far more proactive about the permissions that they give? Could ad blocking be the tip of an iceberg that leads to personal data encryption services – a tool that removes the effort of deciding what we share? If so, what impact could this have on marketers and their outbound campaigns?

For example, might marketing departments need to return to above the line techniques of mass promotion? Or, will the world become transactional? With power back in the hands of consumers, brands may be forced return to a low contact method where the product, rather than the person, is king.

Could a rise of people reacting against ‘creepy’ forms of advertising see a resurrection of print, with marketers reassigning their digital media budgets back to traditional, less-invasive, less targeted tactics?

We can’t claim to know the answer, but the likelihood of being plunged back into an advertising Dark Age seems slim. Busy consumers like convenience, and being treated like an individual – but this is hard to achieve without data insight. Still, the warning signs that people have a limit are there, and marketers would be wise to heed them.

Company bio

Blue Sheep provide data marketing services to enhance your understanding of your customers and products. From customer insight reports (‘Money Maps’) to CRM, Single Customer View, customer analytics and multi-channel campaign management the Blue Sheep team have a 25-year history delivering perfectly targeted marketing solutions. For more information please visit

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