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Ken Magill

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Stupid Media Watch: America's 'Repugnant' and 'Willy-Nilly' Marketers


By Ken Magill

One of the reasons I started the ongoing Stupid Media Watch column in 2005 was to help make deadlines.

Coming up with ideas for a first, second or third column is easy. It’s that 60th, 100th, or 500th column where the ideas start drying up.

But the consumer press is a never-ending supply of examples of marketing stupidity.

The idea has since morphed into Stupid FTC Watch, Stupid Marketer Watch and a whole host of other stupids.

But the consumer press remains the main supplier of stupid for this newsletter. And for that, I thank them.

In our latest installment of stupid, we have Karlin Lillington of the Irish Times complaining about some amendments that have been submitted to a proposed EU data regulation that are a little too business friendly for her taste.

“The most obviously repugnant and surprising element in the amendments is a watering down of existing protections for EU citizens against the willy-nilly marketing Americans are forced to endure,” Lillington wrote. “In the US there are few meaningful restrictions on what businesses can do with people’s personal information when pitching products and services at them.”

The operative word in that paragraph is “meaningful.”

There certainly are restrictions on marketers’ use of data in America.

But apparently The Driver's Privacy Protection Act, The Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, the Cable Communications Act, The Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Video Privacy Protection Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, The CAN-SPAM Act and the Privacy of Consumer Financial Information Rule are all meaningless.

How do we know this? Because of all the willy-nilly marketing Americans are forced to endure.

Of course, it’s not remotely willy-nilly. And it doesn’t require any amount of endurance from anyone who has a maturity level above that of an adolescent.

Marketing departments—and not just those in America—are being increasingly held accountable for the money they spend. Through data-driven marketing, they are getting increasingly better at picking their targets.

Americans are not, for the most part, getting email in their inboxes for which they didn’t sign up. Their telephones are no longer ringing at dinnertime. The expense of direct mail forces marketers to hone it. And online behaviorally based display advertising is astonishingly well targeted.

However, I will admit that some of the pop-up, expanding-display-ad and instant-audio shenanigans websites seem to be increasingly pulling have been making me want to punch my screen.

The point is, in Lillington world where everything good for business is bad for consumers, she won’t get less advertising. She’ll simply get less advertising that is meaningful to her—more willy-nilly, if you will.

And if those amendments she despises go through, she’ll suffer no harm or inconvenience as a result.


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