Is human nature, or poor PR, the bane of innovation?

We’re all familiar with the much-fabled Minority Report advertising scene where Tom Cruise’s character is bombarded with commercial messaging that uses some variety of technology to generate a personalised call-to-action that even cites him by name.  

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This has gone down in advertising folklore as a dystopian scenario, and if I had a penny every time it was cited at a marketing seminar or presentation I’d have been able to retire a long time ago. 

However the fact is, the technology is not that far off and the only thing halting this from scenario becoming a widespread reality is the drawback of human nature, a.k.a. public opinion, privacy concerns, etc. 

Earlier this week, the City of London Corporation ordered an outdoor messaging firm operating a network of ‘smart bins’ that collect data from passing smartphone users to stop over fears the practice is falling foul of legal requirements.    

The firm, called Renew, had used the technology to identify passers-by through collecting data from their smartphones for a while as a footfall tracker tool, theoretically it could also be used to send ads to the smartphone users.

However, a series of media reports dubbing them ‘snooper bins’, etc, put paid to the innovation, as the local authority stamped its populist credentials – even going as far as to voluntarily report the incident to the ICO – and Renew issuing a series of public assurances. 

Personally, I don’t really care, we in the UK live in one of the most heavily monitored parts of the world, think just how many CCTV cameras there are out there, and this is just another layer of scrutiny of the public. But yes, I could do with less ads in my life. However, when you look at it from a marketing professional perspective, this is a great opportunity missed. The possibilities this could have offered marketers are limitless. 

In a brief exchange I had with Marketing Week columnist Alex Tait on the issue, he raised the point that failure to communicate development public was at the core of its downfall and I can’t help but agree. A point further highlighted by a report this week from Deloitte which asserted that complicated privacy policies have led to a drop in consumer awareness of the extent brands collect and use data for marketing campaigns in the past 12 months. 

Going back a bit further and a similar story we covered earlier this year about operators EE and O2 hoping to offer brands insights into consumer behaviour patterns by mining their networks for real-time analytics – for either advertising or footfall patterns – prompted a similar debate among Marketing Week readers with many asserting that it could all backfire with consumers confusing this with “spying”. 

And of course, the reports of government snooping and NSA have hardly helped matters. 

What’s clear is that the marketing industry has a Herculean task of articulating their own ‘good intentions’ and ‘benefits’ of using such technology to the public if they are to utilise such innovations.  

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