The main character in this episode entitled “Nosedive” was Lacie, a single 20-something obsessed with social rankings—think Uber for everyone—that’s become prevalent in the near-future. The premise is jarring and a twisted take on the future of social media, but that wasn’t what jumped out at me, at least not at the marketer in me.
In the early part of the episode where we’re still getting our bearings about this soon-to-be society, Lacie takes a tour of a new home she’s hoping to buy. The real estate agent walks her through the house and pauses in the kitchen. There, with the flick of a button on her handheld device, a projected scene unfolds. A hologram appears—it’s Lacie cooking a meal in the kitchen with her imagined ideal husband. Lacie literally watches her (hopeful) future take place.
After the tour wraps up, she heads outside and looks up at a billboard. The ad, for the housing development that owns the home she just toured, shows an ecstatic Lacie loving her new place.
The hologram is fanciful; the billboard much more plausible. But the marketing theme that Black Mirror gets right here is personalization. An unsettling part of watching this episode wasn’t so much that this felt like a distant future—it was that personalized advertising is already here. While it hasn’t quite evolved to the level of commercialized holograms yet, marketing is very clearly driving down this customized road, and rightly so.
Personalized marketing tries to reach the holy grail: the right message delivered the right person at the right time. This custom marketing solves an issue that remains with traditional media: waste. Traditional media—as it exists today—relies on selling advertising space based on a typical consumer viewing or reading content. Consumers who watch 60 minutes, for instance, are typically older, pay attention to what’s happening in the world, and are usually more affluent than your average consumer. But if you’re buying a TV spot for 60 Minutes, that audience includes a host of people who may never be interested in your product or service.
Personalized marketing looks to augment that through the power of data. Achieved primarily through online channels now but likely to expand, custom communications can help maximize the impact of your marketing and reduce waste by leveraging data. If we know you’ve purchased brand-name paper towels from Amazon three weeks ago, you probably need a refill. Why not a less expensive new paper towel that has the same benefits? You might see that ad next time you check out Facebook. Or walk by your favorite clothing store and get a text with an image of a scarf that pairs perfectly with the coat you just bought from them. Personalization means relevance.
Marketing is trending strongly in this direction. It is estimated that a typical firm will allocate an average of 35% of their marketing budget to online channels by 2019, up from 30% in 2015. Specifically, brands are leveraging search engine marketing as the number-one online venue to promote their products/services given the high level of personalization that’s possible. Social media is also growing at a rapid clip thanks to its ability to tailor messages from brands to suit specific people.
While the whole thing can feel a bit creepy—or a bit “Black Mirror-y”—customized marketing can help brands reach their most likely consumers, and consumers can realize a world where they only see ads that interest them. Is that so bad?
Matt Singer is an Account Supervisor at Karma, and future billboard co-star with Emily Ratajkowski (they know him too well…)