AI will make personalisation even more powerful: advertisers must exercise restraint

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In advertising, personalisation is king. As the mantra goes, right message, right time, right place – if you can tick all three of those boxes, your ad will be much more relevant to the consumer and therefore so much more powerful. In the rapidly approaching age of artificial intelligence, it will be easier than ever to personalise your advertising: when machine learning is applied to the vast quantities of data, advertisers can understand the motivations of almost every consumer on the planet. That promise holds a great deal of power and potential wealth, but as they say – with great power comes great responsibility, and advertisers must consider carefully how they will use and handle customer data.

Personalisation will become ever easier with widespread uptake of AI

Advertisers are understandably excited about the prospect of artificial intelligence; just twenty years ago, it was almost inconceivable that brands would be able to directly target individual consumers based on their unique behaviours and motivations, with messages that were relevant to them. To an extent it is possible now, but it will become increasingly easy as artificial intelligence becomes more widespread, particularly as it is harnessed by programmatic platforms for real-time optimisation, for example.

But personalisation can annoy consumers

Some research indicates that consumers actively want advertising that is relevant to them; indeed, they’re even willing to give away their personal data for more personalised advertising. But there’s a fine line between advertising which is more powerful because of its relevance, and advertising which is annoying or just plain creepy. That’s down to a number of factors: bad targeting, use of sensitive personal data, placement, frequency or a lack of relevancy. You can understand why. If, for example, a consumer has recently purchased a pair of blue shoes online and is stalked around the internet by ads for blue shoes, it’s annoying and the ad simply serves to remind him or her that their activity is being tracked – they no longer need blue shoes. Ads for a blue handbag, for example, or for nice socks, might be more relevant – but that is when the mighty GDPR starts making its presence felt. The EU data regulations, which any advertiser with a European target audience will be all too aware of, make the transfer of consumer data between one company and another very difficult.

Of course, this example assumes that there are two companies involved, and that the brands themselves are doing the selling. The inability to share data will give more power to the platforms where consumers can buy from a large selection of brands: they will be able to harness their first-party data to build a more complete offering for their consumers, and more targeted marketing. The brands themselves could begin to lose the battle to understand and successfully reach audiences.

Where is the line between persuasive marketing and behaviour control?

Brands shouldn’t just be concerned about not annoying consumers. The amount of data at their disposal – and the tools available to process and understand it – means that they can have an astonishingly complete understanding of their consumer – and that means marketing which is too effective and too persuasive. The art of persuasive marketing could be elevated into the science of behaviour control. Layer that with the ability to exploit people’s inherent prejudices and insecurities and we’re into some seriously apocalyptic territory. Need we mention Cambridge Analytica?

The golden rule: always remember the data belongs to the consumer

In order to avoid annoying consumers and indeed to avoid straying into unethical territory, the answer is to always remember one golden rule: a consumer’s data belongs to that consumer, and must be handled with the care and respect that would be afforded to their other possessions. When collecting data, be transparent: explain how you will use it and ask for the consumer’s consent. Like any relationship, trust is critical and transparency is the way to earn that trust. Personalisation must be voluntary, overt and transparent.

Thumbnail image: Shutterstock

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