The PR BlogMedia & PsychologyPersuasion & InfluenceProgrammatic Brainwashing is Coming Your Way

Programmatic Brainwashing is Coming Your Way

Perhaps Inception Marketing will become a thing?

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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?

Media Attention

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.”
Source: abc​.net.

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.

To Spin Or Not To Spin - Programmatic Brainwashing - Spinning Top
To spin or not to spin. That’s the question.

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:

  • per­suade a tar­get to quit smoking,
  • get a tar­get to lose weight,
  • encour­age mar­riage proposals,
  • or con­sider breast implants.

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.”
Source: Forbes.

Programmatic Brainwashing

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.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

1 I’d sug­gest not put­ting this incep­tion tech­no­logy in the hands of David Lynch.
2 Update: In 2020, BBC repor­ted that The Spinner was banned from Facebook.
3 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.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo


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