The T-Rex of Big Data

These days, articles on Big Data targeted advertising seem to be as inescapable as, well, Big Data” targeted ads. Like most people, I’ve become pretty much oblivious to them, but they do occasionally catch my eye long enough to annoy or (occasionally) amuse me.  And so it was yesterday, as I noticed an ongoing stream of units hoping to entice me to purchase something I actually bought two weeks ago, as well as a gadget my 15 year-old found intriguing. What, I wonder, are the brand implications of all these earnest, yet imperfect attempts to guess what I might want or need?

The road to Hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. I’m reminded of the scene in Jurassic Park, in which Jeff Goldblum cautions Richard Attenborough about the dangers of cloning dinosaurs. Attenborough, of course, dismisses his concerns, emphasizing that he’s “spared no expense!” Cue the T-Rex. And so it is with Big Data. Clearly, no expense is being spared. But, as with many new technologies, there are plenty of kinks, limitations and perhaps, unintended consequences.

For me, a good example is Overstock.com. I’ve been a customer forever, long before most people had even heard of Overstock. Great service, great prices and most of the time, great merchandise. Love Overstock. That said, they flood my browser with ads for anything I’ve searched for in recent memory. And that’s the problem…they know what I’ve looked for, but not why, nor if I ultimately made a purchase. No, that dollhouse was a possible Christmas gift for a 5 year-old. It’s March now. Yes, I searched for 5’x7’ wool rugs. And bought one. From you. And no, I searched for “guns” on your site as research, to see just how appallingly available guns are to U.S. consumers. Those ads for assault rifles are really pissing me off.

So, despite all the positive feelings I have for the Overstock brand, their advertising strategy is damaging that perception. Do I buy more stuff from them because of their ads? No. In fact, I actually think twice before searching the site, as I know I’ll have to live with the results for weeks. This is the T-Rex of Big Data.

Without knowing the context of my search or the full cycle of my path to purchase, behavioral ad engines can’t really target me effectively. “We will!” cry the advocates, “and it will be great!” And there’s the rub…I don’t want them to know. They know too much already. And enough of the “we’re working to help consumers find things relevant to their needs” nonsense. You’re trying to sell me more stuff. I get it. And I’m okay with that…just quit following me around.