Internet Marketing and Your Local Bartender
By Ken Magill
In another life I was a bartender—two stints at different taverns and one at a private squash club. Little did I know at the time that I was practicing a form of behaviorally based marketing.
I didn’t know the names of a lot of the folks who frequented the taverns [I’ve always been terrible with names.]. But I knew what they drank. In my head I’d even call them by their drink rather than their names, even if I knew their names.
“Here comes Budweiser,” I’d say while reaching into the cooler for a Bud before the patron had even asked for it.
The customers always appreciated the personalized service. It made them feel important. Correction: It illustrated to them how important they were to me.
And guess what? All of the hazards privacy advocates claim exist in online behaviorally based marketing were in place in my relationships with my alcohol-swilling customers.
I knew what they drank, how much they drank, who was cheating on whom, who had a drinking problem, who wanted me to serve them alcohol-free beverages in secret so they wouldn’t get hassled by their hard-drinking friends—you name it.
I knew some people’s deepest, darkest secrets—or at least if they had any deeper and darker ones, I sure didn’t want to hear them. It is true that people tell their bartenders things they wouldn’t tell anyone else.
But protecting my customer’s privacy was paramount to me, even when their behavior wasn’t behavior I’d engage in myself.
When wives would call the bar looking for husbands who didn’t want to be found, I would cover my eyes with my hand and say: “I don’t see him.”
I also had a reputation for being fiercely protective of women. The moment I saw some guy bothering a woman who wanted to be left alone, I would put an end to it.
Sounds noble, yes? It wasn’t. It was a financially motivated act. I made sure women knew they could come in, even alone, and relax and enjoy themselves while I was on duty. And come in, they did. Countless women told me mine was the only bar they felt comfortable walking into alone. Predictably, the guys followed.
And so did the tips.
I made money by providing personalized service and protecting sensitive information. I knew if I didn’t protect people’s sensitive information, the money would stop.
If privacy advocates made similar demands of bartenders that they make of online behaviorally targeted advertisers, bartenders would have to present patrons with written privacy policies saying they’ll protect their customers’ secrets even though the financial incentives to do so are already in place.
The point is, merchants have engaged in behaviorally targeted selling since people started selling to one another. People have made purchases they wouldn’t necessarily want widely known for the same amount of time. Can you say “world’s oldest profession?”
Sellers who have sensitive information as a result of what they’re selling have a vested interest in protecting it. The emergence of the Internet as a marketing channel certainly hasn’t erased this ancient concept.