Consumer Privacy & Marketing: My Worlds Collide

As a marketer, I’m always looking for new ways to reach target audiences and promote a brand.  And like most consumers, I get annoyed with all the many ways marketing messages are reaching me – especially when interrupting my prime time shows.

Perhaps working in the identity market has made me more sensitive to  the dichotomy of consumer privacy and marketing, but today I was reading about this new  direct mail approach which is to put advertising messages on the outside of shipments.  It’s being pioneered by a company called Zadspace.  Here’s how it works:

Zadspace works with marketers to identify which individual customers who have made purchases from its distribution partners – catalog retailers, infomercial product distributors and e-tailers – are best suited to the advertiser’s demographics.  Ads for products are affixed next to shipping labels on appropriate packages at the order fulfillment center.

Curious, I visited Zadspace’s website where I learned more through a specific example they discuss:

Let’s say you wanted to reach women between the ages of 26-35 who live in the Northeast and own a cat. With other services, that might mean you buy the regional list for a certain women’s magazine or an online women’s shoe retailer. It might also mean you waste some of your budget on older women or women who don’t own a pet at all.

Not so with Zadspace. We have a network of diverse distributors with diverse customers. When you initiate a campaign, our engine searches through our entire distribution network and selects individual packages being delivered to customers matching your exact criteria. Those are the only packages we place your Zads on, guaranteeing that you only pay for a perfect match.

You might recall my blog post from last summer where I recapped the privacy presentation by Robin Wilton at Burton Group’s Catalyst Conference.    While I didn’t discuss this in the post, I remember him talking about privacy as it relates to mail.  The general concept was our PII data (name, address) is not private – it’s out there, everyone has it and can see it.  And it’s needed so that we can, well, get mail.  But what should be private is the actual mail you get.  To really have privacy, mail shouldn’t be able to be identified as to the speculation of the contents (e.g. from a Drug & Alcohol Clinic, healthcare facility, financial institution, insurance company or even a non-profit organization).   Most of us probably already have some sort of association related to mail privacy and magazine subscriptions, but when you think about it, how is getting a newsletter from let’s say the local Rape Crisis Center really any different?  It indicates something personal about me (which could be anything from me being a volunteer to a victim) that others will know that I may want to keep private.

Sure, Zadspace’s concept is innovative (and is getting response rates ranging from 1 -14%).  As a marketer, I do appreciate this and can quickly see package ads becoming common practice among direct B2C marketers.  But when you consider the context of  mail privacy and look at this approach through a privacy lens, I’m bothered.  Are you?

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