Personalized advertising and the end of the salesman

In advertising, we’ve spent a lot of energy researching consumers. Decades. Billions of dollars. Entire careers. Unfortunately the new technologies we’ve created to learn all we can about consumers are about to screw us over.

What we’re trying to do with personalized advertising, essentially, is write a localized ad for a city we don’t live in. You’ve seen them – some ad that casually mentions something about your city, but just doesn’t ring true. Like the Chase ads all around San Francisco that had some line about “easy to find – even in this fog” or something. Someone failed to realize that for San Francisco, Chase ATMs still aren’t as convenient as BofA ATMs, no matter how much we may hate BofA. Everyone knows San Francisco is foggy. Only San Franciscans know that 6 blocks up Market Street does not equal convenient. Chase may as well have slapped up a really big logo everywhere and saved themselves the creative fee. Better yet, they should have slapped up the logo with “Up Yours Bank of America” in huge letters and saved the creative fee for the lawsuit. (Btw I have no idea who worked on that Chase campaign. If they are San Franciscans… I don’t really know what to say. You know what you did.)

If tailoring one campaign to multiple cities is hard enough, how do we target one campaign to every single potential customer?

We don’t. Instead, we let the customer target us. If you’re thinking this leaves traditional advertising on the side of a dark, lonely road crawling through the mud and grasping its side to keep its internal organs from falling out, you’re right. And you’ll find remarkably few people outside the industry who wouldn’t run that bum over.

The most successful advertising has never looked like advertising. The most successful advertising of the this decade won’t be advertising at all. It’ll be product. It’ll be conversation. It’ll be experiences. It’ll be engagement. It will be anything that we’d like to think people will go out of their way to find. It’ll be contented brands instead of branded content.

We’re not salesmen anymore. We’re gardeners.

Hopefully it doesn't all go horribly, horribly wrong.

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