Doctor SpinMedia & PsychologyPersuasion & PropagandaProgrammatic Brainwashing — The Perils of Creepy Micro-Targeting

Programmatic Brainwashing — The Perils of Creepy Micro-Targeting

Perhaps Inception Marketing will become a thing?

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?

Table of Contents

    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” of sorts. 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, of course, 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 to handle 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 reports that The Spinner is now banned from Facebook.

    The Spinner’s web service is likely to be written off as an unethical concept, and rightly so, but it’s safe to assume that this might be the starting point of a growing number of 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 in use 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.

    Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)

    FOOTNOTES
    FOOTNOTES
    1 I’d suggest not putting this inception technology in the hands of David Lynch.
    2 Update: In 2020, BBC reports that The Spinner is now 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 Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
    Jerry Silfwer, aka 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.
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