Features

Data in the wrong hands is dangerous, but marketers won’t admit it

Next time some marketing-droid blithely repeats the mantra that the future of marketing is all about data, remember data is highly sensitive information that can cause unlimited damage when misused, argues Bob Hoffman

It has become an article of faith in the marketing business that the future of marketing is about data.

“Data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change,” says The Economist.
Scientific American says, “The digital revolution is in full swing…in 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind…”

The primacy of data in marketing has been beaten into us for the past 10 years. In fact, it has become such a platitude that we no longer even stop to think about what it means.

Data sounds very scientific, impersonal and hygienic. But it is not.

When marketers talk about data what they usually mean is personal private information about us that is collected, traded, sold and exploited without our knowledge or consent.

To marketers, data is not all numbers and algorithms. It is your sexual preferences, your religious beliefs or lack thereof, your banking details, your medical and psychological diagnoses, your work history and political preferences. It is thousands of facts about you that you never suspected anyone knew or collected.

It has the potential to be used in a myriad of dangerous ways by any incompetent, irresponsible organisation that has the wherewithal to collect it or buy it.

Data is just a bland, emotionless word for some highly sensitive information. It makes the collection of personal private information about us seem to be an inoffensive remote branch of mathematics.

Next time some cliché-spewing marketing-droid blithely repeats the mantra that the future of marketing is all about data, remember this – data isn’t neutral. Data, in the wrong hands, is dangerous.

And we have every reason to believe that the marketing industry is the wrong hands.

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog

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