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No matter which title you picked you wind up here. A cheap gag to prove a point. Say, as a marketer, I wanted to reach various internet users. Lacking the resources to target individuals directly, I'd class them into types based on demographic and psychographic data.

One of several marketing research firms could guide the way. For example, SRI International's VALS2 (Values and Lifestyles) program divides internet users into nine types--Immigrants, Seekers, Surfers, Mainstreamers, Sociables, Workers, Upstreamers, Socialites, and Wizards--based on their answers to a survey.

Unflattering photo of publicist Spencer Gates (Upstreamer)

According to SRI, the information allows them to help online users "identify content of interest" while helping content providers "better understand their potential audiences." It's a classic win-win situation, one where "better understanding" allows marketers to send the right messages to particular sets of consumers. Mainstreamers get family-related ads, Wizards get the high-tech jargon, etc.

If this sounds like a crude way of measuring human differences, well, it is. Marketeers would be the first to admit the system is a joke. At best, segmentation is only a temporary fix until advertising (in all its forms) can afford to cater to the individual.

Enter the next big thing in marketing--one-to-one marketing. Son of database marketing, cousin to niche marketing, mother of just-in-time marketing, one-to-one marks a radical break from traditional marketing. Instead of trying to reach the greatest number of people, it focuses on earning more of an individual customer's business. Instead of targeting groups of customers, it aims for units of one.

One-to-one's cheerleaders--the Wired gang, for instance--say gathering personal information from customers helps businesses that try to meet customers needs. Unfortunately, Linda McCartney frozen granola tastes like cardboard, Ben & Jerry's can kill a diet, and the bottom line of just about everyone else is making money, not meeting customer needs. It's hardly a mystery that people want more affordable medical care, diverse news coverage, and unwaxed apples instead of a hundred brands of toothpaste. Businesses want to "know" customers not to meet their needs (which, more often than not, would mean leaving people alone) but to figure out how to sell more stuff to them.

Heart-to-Heart and One-to-One w/Benetton

Proponents of one-to-one also say it'll make it easier for consumers to find what they want. But as the different titles for this article is meant to illustrate, the product doesn't necessarily change when the pitch does. The proliferation of choices is just a disorienting illusion. The better companies get at personalizing messages, the more consumers must work to put those messages in a genuine context.

Not only will one-to-one bring more ads and more targeted ads, but more ads so well-targeted that they're just another form of entertainment. In the even-more-mediated media, the line between ad and content will be virtually obliterated.

Already a testing ground for one-to-one, the world wide web signals what's to come. Since advertising alone isn't paying the bills and consumers won't pay for content, the content must be the ad. Whether Levi's or Matador's, a site's content must push products while entertaining, enhancing brand image, and/or--here's where the survey comes in--providing a research tool.

Since data from credit card purchases, ATMs, hospital records, phone bills, sweepstakes entries, coupon returns isn't enough, more and more companies see the web as a way to gather information about their customers--not just straightforward, demographic data but information on personal habits, tastes and opinions. This information is stored, processed, analyzed and traded with other corporations to identify and target customers so they can sell more and more worthless stuff while raping the earth of precious natural resources and paying Asian laborers a nickel a day.

All of this boils down to a single argument, if you are not already lying on surveys, please start.


A Rational Argument (index) | Suggested Reading

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