Programmatic brainwashing — this is why GDPR is needed.
Okay, so this should give you the creeps:
The Spinner has launched a service that allows for programmatic micro-targeting.
Where will we go from here?
No one is too happy about The Spinner’s launch; the service is, to put it mildly, questionable.
But perhaps these types of programmatic technologies hint at the future of online advertising. Targetting tiny audiences can be done using Facebook:
“Facebook also allows advertisers to target groups as small as 20 users. Max said an advertiser could, in theory, target a single person by filling the group with 19 fake accounts. The only real account in the group would be the targeted one. […] For example, this how-to guide from December 2017 explains how to get around the 20-person minimum group size for targeted ads.”
While already a creepy technology, it could also get scary.
Many have seen Inception, Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. A team of agents breaks into sleeping people’s heads to plant ideas within their dreams. 1 I’d suggest not putting this inception technology in the hands of David Lynch.
Perhaps Inception Marketing will become a thing?
Or maybe Facebook Sniper Marketing?
As expected, the company is getting media attention due to its controversial nature.
How about targeting loved ones to:
The media seems focused on men tricking women into sexual relationships (or settling out of court) — a sexual “Cambridge Analytica”. Forbes calls it online manipulation, and ABC calls it brainwashing.
“For all its quirkiness, The Spinner highlights how easy it can be in the age of fake news and social media to manipulate people on the Web. Cambridge Analytica did it. Advertisers and politicians do it. “Why not give this ability to the common man?” says Shefler, who wears loose-fitting jeans and refused to have his face shown in a photo.”
The purpose is to bombard a single individual (rather than a group of people) with tailored-to-fit messages. And it could work.
Famous mentalists like Derren Brown have made it their business to show that suggestive techniques can have effects — making targets believe that planted ideas are their own.
Traditional marketing has always been clear about what products or services are advertised. Still, maybe now we’ll begin to see trials in suggestive targeting based on the psychological makeup of individuals.
If the level of detail is too much for most organisations, micro-targeting by matching messages with individual psychologies could instead be a venue for future AI technologies.
Perhaps political campaigning and public affairs will be amongst the first to experiment with micro-targeting.
An Expensive Market
Still, I think that there’s a chance that the market might protect itself. Honestly, I’d be flattered if a company would decide to pay good money to expose me as an individual with exclusive messages.
Micro-targeting might prove to be an expensive space. The programmatic part could be automated further, but creating content for individuals is likely a costly venture — even for enterprise-level B2B companies with fewer potential clients.
There’s a market for B2B sales, where a salesperson, before and after a meeting with a potential client, could run automated campaigns to reinforce their pitch. However, this is where we enter GDPR territory; using personal information this way will likely be stopped at an early stage. 2Update: In 2020, BBC reported that The Spinner was banned from Facebook.
The Spinner’s web service is likely to be written off as an unethical concept, and rightly so. Still, it’s safe to assume that this might be the starting point of many solutions for individual “Pre-Suasion.” 3For more on Pre-Suasion, I recommend Robert Cialdini’s latest book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, or my blog article, How To Be Persuasive.
Controversy as a PR Strategy
While The Spinner is somewhat scandalous, purposely marketing itself to stir up conflict, the technology is far from advanced; cookie-based programmatic targeting is already in widespread mainstream use.
The main takeaway is that controversy almost always works for punching publicity well above your weight.
But controversy as a PR strategy is also a thin line between success and overstepping into the we-will-never-recover badlands.
PR Resource: The Anatomy of Attention
The Anatomy of Attention
Attention is an essential component of public relations:
We all seem to crave attention in some form or another:
“People want to be loved; failing that admired; failing that feared; failing that hated and despised. They want to evoke some sort of sentiment. The soul shudders before oblivion and seeks connection at any price.”
— Hjalmar Söderberg (1869−1941), Swedish author
But what constitutes ‘attention’?
“Attention is a complex, real neural architecture (‘RNA’) model that integrates various cognitive models and brain centers to perform tasks like visual search.”
Source: Trends in cognitive sciences 4Shipp, S. (2004). The brain circuitry of attention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223 – 230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.03.004
Each of the below terms refers to a specific aspect or type of attention (“mental bandwidth”), a complex cognitive process. 5Schweizer, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Goldhammer, F. (2005). The structure of the relationship between attention and intelligence. Intelligence, 33(6), 589 – 611. … Continue reading
Let’s explore different types of attention:
Each type of attention plays a crucial role in how we interact with and process information from our environment, and understanding these different aspects is key in fields like psychology, neuroscience, and education.
“There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
— Oscar Wilde
Learn more: The Anatomy of Attention
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|I’d suggest not putting this inception technology in the hands of David Lynch.|
|Update: In 2020, BBC reported that The Spinner was banned from Facebook.|
|For more on Pre-Suasion, I recommend Robert Cialdini’s latest book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, or my blog article, How To Be Persuasive.|
|Shipp, S. (2004). The brain circuitry of attention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223 – 230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.03.004|
|Schweizer, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Goldhammer, F. (2005). The structure of the relationship between attention and intelligence. Intelligence, 33(6), 589 – 611. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2005.07.001|