The Modern Marketer

Keeping up with the times

Surprise, You’re Pregnant!

Imagine seeing an entire catalog of baby product related ads when you are unaware of any pregnancies in your home. “Surprise, your [daughter, wife, etc.] is pregnant!” Possible not something you wanted to hear.

Sending this message was an unanticipated side effect of Target’s original ad campaign targeting pregnant women. A very detrimental side effect that negatively affected the company’s relationships with many consumers. Most notably perhaps, is the story of how Target’s algorithms figured out that a teenage girl was pregnant…before her parents did. The father of the girl went in to their local store, outraged, asking if Target was trying to promote teen pregnancy. When the manager called the father at home a few days later to apologize for the misunderstanding,  the father responded with: “I had a talk with my daughter. It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

Ouch. This is probably an all over loss situation. Even though the dad in this situation was in the wrong, he’s probably going to carry around a negative association with Target for quite some time, which will likely prevent him from shopping there. And considering that the ads from Target were what tipped her parents off to her teenage pregnancy, the daughter is probably not very likely to shop there either. Target also gets a bad rap as being a creepy company that has so much data on you that they can assign a “pregnancy prediction” score to pregnant women, allowing them to predict within a very small margin, when your due date is. Starting to sound a bit 1984?

Since all of the data mining techniques that they’re using are technically legal as far as we know, where they really went wrong was in their choice of interaction context. Using a more private distribution channel for their ads could have avoided the sticky situation. Email, for instance, would still have provided the teen-mom-to-be with the coupons needed to incentivize her to shop at Target, but would also have kept her dad from seeing the ads, and allowed her the time to tell her parents on her own (hopefully). It seems that Target has realized their mistake however, as their new ad campaign technique involves putting “an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers”, or “a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes”. This way it looks as though “all the products were chosen by chance.”

Aside from Target’s errors however, there are plenty of campaigns out there that are doing quite well using customer analytics based on their data mining. Take for instance, Starbucks, a company that is constantly pushing out new campaigns. Just recently, in May of this past year, Starbucks implemented a new program allowing customers to “put their Starbucks packaged-coffee purchases bought in grocery stores toward their MyStarbucksRewards, allowing them to redeem points for food and beverages at Starbucks locations.” “The program is expected to expand further into the grocery aisle with other Starbucks products –presumably Frappuccino bottles and the like — later this fall.” This is the next step in allowing consumers to feel like part of the Starbucks family, even while shopping outside of a Starbucks store. It also adds yet another benefit to having a Starbucks card. This, combined with many other aspects of their marketing campaign, is leading them to predict an expected reach of 9 million dollars by the end of  this fiscal year.

According to an article published in Advertising AgeThe company uses it card information to segment consumers and set up business rules based on purchase behavior, then pumps out offers immediately to them, often via their mobile devices.” Given that they can now see what types of coffee you purchase in supermarkets (e.g. roast, whole beans vs. grounds, etc.) they can now target you with ads based on those choices as well. They also mainly target people who they are worried are ‘at risk of not returning soon’.

So when you see that ad for a pumpkin spice latte or get a coupon for no charge on soy, it means that Starbucks is worried that you might not return. And knows that you have a weakness for seasonal drinks…and are lactose intolerant.


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