We are the most marketed-to generation in the history of the world. According to American Demographics:
In 1971 the average American saw 560 bits of advertisement per day
Today it is between 3,000 to 4,000 advertisements a day.
A child born today will see over a million advertisements before they are dead.
A Harvard study showed that for every hour of TV per week you watch, you average spending an extra $200 per year.
Target has very sophisticated methods for tracking its customers’ buying habits. A recent Forbes article details how they assign a guest id to each customer based on credit cards, names, e-mail addresses, however they can uniquely identify each customer. They then perform very sophisticated data mining of those customers’ purchases.
For example, they examined the purchasing trends of women who had signed up for a baby registry. Using this data they could then track buying habits at various stage of pregnancy. Target then uses this data to send coupons to expecting moms that match what types of things they are very likely to be purchasing at various stages of their pregnancy.
The article relates a story about a father who approached the manager of a Target store. Target had sent his teenage daughter pregnancy related coupons. He was extremely irate that they would be trying to encourage teenagers to become pregnant. A couple of weeks later he called the store manager to apologize as it turns out his daughter really was pregnant and Target had been able to predict it based on her buying habits.
They actually became so good at predicting pregnancy that they found customers started to find it a little creepy. So to disguise things they would send a coupon book that contained the pregnancy related coupons along with a bunch of other completely unrelated coupons so that their customers wouldn’t realize they were being targeted.
This isn’t meant to pick on Target. They are hardly the only company that studies their customers and advertise accordingly. Amazon.com is another company that does this very well. We frequently buy a few Christmas presents for friends from Amazon each year. What I always find amusing is how this messes up their marketing plans. For the next several months I get e-mails targeted to products that I purchased as a gift for someone else. The advertisements might have been effective if sent to my friend but they aren’t all that useful to me. It’s clear though that Amazon is studying my buying habits and then trying to entice me to buy similar products to those it knows I have purchased previously.
Some people might actually say that Target or Amazon are doing their customers a service with this kind of research. After all instead of just providing random coupons or ads that you might find of little use, they are able to provide you with coupons for specific products you are likely to buy allowing you to save more money.
I agree that this isn’t entirely a bad thing. That’s not what I am saying at all. The point though is that as consumers we need to understand how we are marketed to. If this kind of focused marketing enables you to save money on something you would have bought anyway that is a good thing. But if the marketing succeeds in finding our weak spots and entices us to buy things that we don’t really need and don’t really have the money for that’s not good. There is a saying that “Knowledge is power”. I believe that is often true and certainly applies in this case. A little knowledge and awareness of how we are marketed to can help us take advantage of the opportunities that are provided to us without having our budgets busted by the temptations that it drops in our paths.