Marketers are well aware that consumers are shocked at the level of Facebook user data that Cambridge Analytica acquired, but they can say nothing without admitting they have been targeting people in the same way for years.
It has not been unusual this past fortnight to see the Cambridge Analytica story and its links to Donald Trump, Facebook and Brexit simultaneously dominate the news reporting of all western news. But turn to the marketing and advertising press and the whole Cambridge Analytica saga is being treated like any other minor story. Why is that?
The answer is complex. But if you look into modern marketing, no one has anything to gain from the Cambridge Analytica drama. In fact, the longer you examine this ever-unravelling story the more apparent it becomes that most marketers really have no option but keep their disciplinary traps shut.
As a strategic partner to some global agencies, we have seen that a significant number of marketers have expressed concerns in the past that digital communications is not all it is cracked up to be. They pointed to robots, ad fraud, unexplained payment structures and the general shadiness behind Facebook and Google, and shaked their heads suspiciously.
New advertising tools have added a lot to agencies, but not as much as many ‘digital marketers’ want you to believe. Traditional marketers feel there is almost no value to be had in digital marketing tools.
One might imagine that these traditionalist marketers are now jubilant after all scandals and hacks of social media giants. But there is a catch here. You can’t spend the last decade bemoaning the overstatement of digital media’s impact on consumers and now proclaim the same tools to be possible to help Trump into the to White House or push the UK into the Brexit. In other words, one cannot state for years what a waste of money digital was for a beer brewery since now it’s responsible for the end of the democratic status of Western economies. What will it do to these so called experts?
The digital natives
There is also another group of people. Actually the opposite of the traditionalists: the digital natives. The people who openly dismissed the value of traditional media and predicted its demise as the rise of the tablet and the smartphone take hold of consumer attention.
But their support for the power of digital media in all its forms now represents a bit of a barrier. If digital natives spring to the defence of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook too quickly or with too much vehemence they face the genuine risk of being associated with all the things that most of these bright young people should be opposed to. Better to stay quiet, see out the storm and, ironically, stand over in the silent corner next to the traditionalists saying nothing about the whole saga until the heat dies down.
The marketers split.
Marketers (traditionalists and digital natives) are in a split. Where Cambridge Analytica ran very specific targeted marketing campaigns for Trump and Canadian Aggregate IQ targeted about 7 million people from Cambridge Analytica database to support the Vote Leave campaign during the EU Referendum, they have to admit that they were doing the same for years.
This makes even sense to a traditional marketer. Identifying which voters could be swayed in their decision-making, and then focusing on this smaller group at the expense of the broader electorate, is a basic strategy. Replace the voters by any consumer product and you will understand why traditionalists and digital natives have the same way of working.
How does Facebook respond?
It took Facebook almost a week to make any official comment on the Cambridge Analytica saga. It speaks volumes about the company’s reticence to say anything other than ‘sorry, we will do better’ at this stage. But brings up the question “Have they done that much wrong?” Yes, they were sometimes respectless or even brutal, but is that a crime?
No it isn’t! What they have done is 100% permissible according to Facebook’s user agreement, but the users are in shock. The discovered that for many years, phone calls and text messages may have been collected by Facebook or that their own data could have been accessed by Facebook via one of their friends on the social media platform. Facebook does not present its case strongly, it opted for a quieter approach to prevent them from a declining sympathy and negative PR.
CMOs keep quiet
CMO’s are curiously quiet on the topic and they have to. They are fully aware of the extended data services that exist for most customers who use social media, but for years now, have been using that data for their own commercial tactics. Every major digital channel presents clients with significantly more information on their target consumers than those consumers realise.
Consumers are completely unaware of the degree to which their own behaviours and activities have been recorded, sold and used to market to them. We are doing this for at least the last 15 years, but have never made any complaint. There is nothing illegal in building CRM systems that profile the customer market, but the consumers never realised that it has been going on or have thought about the consequences. The marketers are all fully aware what’s going on and they used similar technologies to target their consumers. It makes no sense for them stand up and oppose. They keep quite for a couple of weeks, duck and let the storm pass.
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