By Tony Silber
Spot quiz: If you were asked to name the most memorable ads you’ve ever seen, which medium would they be in?
- Direct marketing
Select as many as you choose.
Now, if the question were posed slightly differently, and you were asked to name the ads that most spurred you to action—to actually make a purchase, and these were the options, what would be the most effective medium?
- Direct marketing
- Surveillance ads
Chances are it would still be one of the first group. For me, surveillance advertising is the worst iteration of the form, by far. Yes, occasionally I’ll be reminded I wanted to buy a pair of shoes or a tee-shirt based on my browsing patterns, but mostly, it’s creepy.
You know what I mean. We all deal with it. You’re having a conversation about boating, and suddenly you have boat ads following you around the internet and in your email. How else to explain it other than your phone was eavesdropping? You make a social media post about your favorite band, and ticket, tour schedules and offers crop up in advertising. And suddenly too, the seemingly-random-but-actually-precision-targeted posts—advertising and organic—that come up in your feeds are all about that band.
Then your imagination runs wild about the other things they know about you.
Now the Federal Trade Commission is considering action to curb surveillance advertising. Earlier this month, the commission voted to explore rules that crack down on surveillance and lax data privacy, and is seeking public comment on the negative impact of the business of collection, analyzing and monetizing information about people.
The first step is to seek public comments, which the commission will gather over the next few months. It will also hold a public forum on September 8. “Mass surveillance has heightened the risks and stakes of data breaches, deception, manipulation, and other abuses,” the FTC said in a press release.
Added FTC Chair Lina M. Khan, “The growing digitization of our economy—coupled with business models that can incentivize endless hoovering up of sensitive user data and a vast expansion of how this data is used—means that potentially unlawful practices may be prevalent.”
“Our goal today is to begin building a robust public record to inform whether the FTC should issue rules to address commercial surveillance and data security practices and what those rules should potentially look like,” Khan added.
While any meaningful reform is probably years away, and will probably require Congressional action at some point, this is a start.
And meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that old-school print and TV advertising is both more memorable and spurs more action.