Marketing? Automated Serendipity.

Bob Garfield has been railing on about a post-advertising age for over three years now and marketers just may be catching up with that concept.

In his 5,000 word article, a manifesto of sorts, he describes a form of marketing that is far beyond the traditional definition of marketing:

“”Now we have the ability to automate serendipity,” says Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, the behavioral-marketing firm sold to AOL in 2007 for a reported $275 million. “Consumers may know things they think they want, but they don’t know for sure what they might want. They’re not spending all their time hunting for those things.”

Take, for instance, flat-panel TVs. In 2006 Tacoda did a project for Panasonic in which it scrutinized the online behavior of millions of internet users — not a sample of 1,200 subjects to project a result against the whole population within a statistical margin of error; this was actual millions. Then it broke down that population’s surfing behavior according to 400-some criteria: media choices, last site visited, search terms, etc. It then ranked all of those behaviors according to correlation with flat-screen-TV purchase.

In that list, “shopping online for flat-panel TVs” ranked 22nd — 18 places below “consumed ‘Miami travel’ content.” Miami travel?

“Not Chicago travel,” Morgan says. “Not Europe travel. Not business travel. Don’t ask me why. But here’s the incredible thing: No. 1 — and significantly above the others — was people looking at military content. It made no sense. Then I talked to a friend of mine who had been an officer in the first Iraq war. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘That’s easy. The kids in the military are huge video-gamers. They get big, fat signing bonuses, and their housing is free. They don’t need cars. So they buy big TVs.'”

Morgan followed up because he was curious and felt the need for this counterintuitive association to have an explanation. But he needn’t have. Why ask why? The whole point is that data mining takes us to a realm beyond obviousness and common sense. The data speak for themselves.

This message was hammered home in research the same year for Budget Rent A Car’s weekend-rental promotion. “Shopping for a rental car” was the No. 4 correlation. No. 1 was “recently read an online obituary.” Try to connect the dots if you wish; meantime, go read some online obits and see what ads show up on the page.

“We no longer have to rely on old cultural prophecies as to who is the right consumer for the right message,” Morgan says. “It no longer has to be microsample-based [à la Nielsen or Simmons]. We now have [total-population] data, and that changes everything. With [those] data, you can know essentially everything. You can find out all the things that are nonintuitive or counterintuitive that are excellent predictors. …

There’s a lot of power in that.”


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