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Stupid Media Watch: Those Evil Database Campaigns

8/28/12

By Ken Magill

Can consumer reporters really be as stupid as they come off? Or is marketing really that hard to understand?

The Associated Press ran a sinister-toned piece last week about a super-duper mega-evil database marketing initiative by the Romney campaign to ferret out new donors. It was a typically ignorant consumer-press hit piece.

“Building upon its fundraising prowess, Mitt Romney’s campaign began a secretive data-mining project this summer to trove through Americans’ personal information — including their purchasing history and church attendance — to identify new and likely wealthy donors, The Associated Press has learned,” the piece began.

“The project employs strategies similar to those the business world uses to influence the way Americans shop and think. Now they’re being used to sway presidential elections. The same personal data consumers give away — often unwittingly when they swipe their credit cards or log into Facebook — is now being used by the people who might one day occupy the White House.

Never mind that data-driven marketing has been used “by the people who might one day occupy the White House” as long as data-driven marketing has been in existence. Targeted direct mail propelled Ronald Reagan into the White House, for Pete’s sake.

And note how it’s a “secretive data-mining project”—the insinuation being since there wasn’t a press release put out about it, it must be bad. And reporter Jack Gillum isn’t done spinning the data-driven marketing industry as some shadowy cabal.

“The project relies upon a sophisticated analysis by powerful computers of thousands of commercially available, expensive databases that are lawfully bought and sold behind the scenes by corporations, including details about credit accounts, families and children, voter registrations, charitable contributions, property tax records and survey responses. It combines marketing data with what is known in this specialized industry as psychographic data analysis, which tries to ferret out Americans’ consumer behavior and habits.”

Note to Gillum: Just because a transaction doesn’t happen in your local supermarket doesn’t make it sinister. Construction companies buy concrete “behind the scenes” by the truckload.

Gillum states that money may be the deciding factor in this election and insinuates that Romney’s super-evil, top-secret database fundraising initiative may tip the scales.

In Gillum-World, apparently Obama doesn’t have access to such evil marketing wizardry. Or does he?

A quick Google search reveals that Politico ran an equally stupid piece on Obama’s campaign’s data-mining efforts in June with the headline: “Obama’s data advantage.”

“On the sixth floor of a sleek office building here, more than 150 techies are quietly peeling back the layers of your life. They know what you read and where you shop, what kind of work you do and who you count as friends. They also know who your mother voted for in the last election,” the piece began.

They know who we count as friends? Can we see some evidence for that assertion? Facebook “friends” aren’t friends.

The breathlessly stupid piece continues: “The depth and breadth of the Obama campaign’s 2012 digital operation — from data mining to online organizing — reaches so far beyond anything politics has ever seen, experts maintain, that it could impact the outcome of a close presidential election. It makes the president’s much-heralded 2008 social media juggernaut — which raised half billion dollars and revolutionized politics — look like cavemen with stone tablets,” the article continued.

And in this article rather than being database marketing’s Dr. Evil, the Romney campaign’s the rube playing catch-up.

“Mitt Romney indeed is ramping up his digital effort after a debilitating primary and, for sure, the notion that Democrats have a monopoly on cutting edge technology no longer holds water,” the article said.

“But it’s also not at all clear that Romney can come close to achieving the same level of technological sophistication and reach as his opponent,” the piece said.

The notion that Democrats had a monopoly on cutting edge technology never held water. Using the Internet more effectively and having a monopoly on cutting-edge technology are not the same thing.

Marketing data and database technology are fungible. If you’ve got money, you’ve got access. But this concept is apparently lost on Politico.

“’It’s all about the data this year and Obama has that. When a race is as close as this one promises to be, any small advantage could absolutely make the difference,’ says Andrew Rasiej, a technology strategist and publisher of TechPresident. ‘More and more accurate data means more insight, more money, more message distribution, and more votes.’”

It apparently has occurred to neither of these reporters that—barring national catastrophe—each presidential campaign will be more technologically sophisticated than the last and each candidate will have access to the best marketing technology available.

The headlines for both of these pieces should have been: “Campaigns Employ Latest Marketing Technology: Yawn.”

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