Big Brother Marketing Wants to Stalk & Kill You

So, billboards, right? They’re the original social media experience, in that a whole bunch of people see the same messages on them every day. The old, static ones are still around, of course, but the ever-changing digital ones are slowly becoming the norm. Personally, I think digital billboards should be outlawed, because they can be quite distracting, and considering what $#!tty drivers most people are, the fewer distractions on the road the better.

They’re Getting Worse

One of the newest trends in digital marketing, unfortunately, is the “targeted” digital billboard. In some cases, these are relatively innocuous—for example, a sign advertising the season premiere of a hit TV show changing to reflect the date (“In 3 days…”, “In 2 days…,” etc.). Now, however, marketers are using increasingly Big Brother-esque tactics to make their messages even more specific. Not to mention creepier and more dangerous.

"Dammit, leave me the hell alone, will ya?" - dudes named Buford

“Dammit, leave me the hell alone, will ya?” – dudes named Buford

Québécois commuters have recently been victims of privy to an advertising campaign by Dannon Yogurt that displays one of four different messages based on traffic speeds as determined by the GPS in drivers’ cars and phones (and passengers’ phones, too, I suppose). Tracking peoples’ GPS for commercial gain is slightly creepy, but Google Maps has been using that same info to provide arrival time expectations for years, and I’m all for that, so I won’t go all hypocrite-y on the yogurt mongers for that one. At least they’re just general signs.

In Jolly Olde England, though, drivers aren’t so lucky. A new advertising/stalking campaign from a company called Ocean uses a video camera mounted on a digital billboard to capture the license plate of the lead car stopped at a red light. The image is then cross-referenced to a public database to find the make, model, and color of the car; the billboard then modifies its message to “speak” directly to the driver of that car. “Hello, you in the red convertible,” it reads (for example), followed by an advertisement.

That is immensely distracting, not to mention creepy as hell. Like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects a billboard that is literally talking directly to them. And I know that if I saw a billboard like that, no matter what they’re selling, there is no way in hell I would ever buy it. If anything, a creepy-@$$ experience like that would turn me off of said product forever.

In-Car Ads = Death on Four Wheels

As built-in digital data display screens become more and more common in modern automocars, marketers are, of course, trying to capitalize on this to send you more ads you don’t want to see for $#!t you don’t want to buy. That’s not so different from most ads, I’ll grant you, but most ads won’t potentially kill you.

Those in-car digital screens are great when you need to use your GPS or backup cameras or adjust your satellite radio. The big, bright displays making getting the information you want and/or need easy, and since they’re built into the car, you don’t even really have to think about them. But, the newest of new vehicles with these modules also track the cars’ performance and relay operational data back to the automaker, ostensibly to allow them to make improvements going forward.

This data is supposedly anonymous, but come on—it’s 2016, nothing that’s “connected” is anonymous anymore. Someone somewhere is tracking that data and trying to monetize it in any way they can. The carmaker of course has the VIN number of every car being monitored, and therefore knows who owns/drives the car. That info can then be cross-referenced to your online profile—even if you don’t think you have such a thing, trust me, if you’ve ever used the internet, you have one.

If the newest wave of marketers has their druthers, that info will then be used to send targeted ads directly into your car. Based on the websites you visit, your recent Amazon orders, your search history, etc., a you-specific ad will appear on your data screen while you’re driving. It probably won’t be specific enough to say, “Hey Mark, check out Taco Restaurant XYZ, it’s only a few blocks away and you love tacos,” but it will be pretty close. Certainly the “try this ‘cause we know you love [whatever it is] and there’s a store that sells it/them nearby” is within the scope of current technology and not above the reach of marketers’ sleaziness.

Having any adverts at all on in-car screens is distracting and therefore dangerous. Having ads that are laser-focused on you personally will make them even more distracting. And considering what $#!tty drivers most people are, the fewer distractions the better.

Not to mention: that’s stalking, man. Plain and simple. “We see you… buy our stuff… we know where you are… buy our stuff…” Nope. You can f*©% right off.

Photo credit: web ninja1 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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