Brands beware, when GDPR arrives we'll switch off your irrelevant marketing

Elliott Haworth
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I have so much hair.

In the last week I, curly locks and all, have received marketing for a hair loss product, a personality test from the Church of Scientology, and, most worryingly, an unsolicited leaflet from the Labour Party.

I’ve made a habit of capturing screenshots of all the irrelevant material sent my way, mostly for retrospective comedy value, but also because when it’s wrong, it feels like a personal affront.

With the proliferation of personal data, and the subsequent trail of information marketers use for targeting, one might think that the thorough cross-analysis of the minutiae of our digital lives would result in every communication we receive having at least partial relevance.

But it’s not, and my experience is not an aberration. Last week The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) released one of those “well duh” reports, confirming that half of those who have ever received marketing say it is never relevant to them.

Literally “never.”

Of those, it is most common to receive marketing about a hobby or interest they don’t have (61 per cent) or for them to receive promotions for offers in areas they neither live in, nor visit (35 per cent).

Clearly for consumers, it’s irritating, like an over-familiar stranger at a party making blase assumptions about you. It instills a loathing of marketing practices and may even conversely affect a brand’s appeal.

But for brands, the findings demonstrate an egregious wastage in their marketing spend.

Targeting technology was supposed to liberate them from hit and miss, one-to-many, mass marketing, but it seems to have had the opposite effect.

Much like the ongoing viewability debate in Programmatic Land, where seeing just 50 per cent of a display ad is considered “viewable”, when half of your marketing is “never” relevant, it becomes quickly apparent that the efficacy of such technologies has been grossly overplayed.

Wasteage though, isn’t new. My thanks to the bods at CIM, who dug out some research from 2004, when, discounting “don’t knows,” 53 per cent of people thought “most adverts are aimed at people very different from me”, while interestingly, 71 per cent believed “companies hold too much personal information about me.”

Data alone is useless until it is turned into information, and, as it stands, marketers are utilising the former crudely.

But this will soon change. It has to.

The upcoming General Data Protection Regulation demands “active opt-in” for personal data collection, meaning that, without explicit consent from an individual, you can’t market to them, period.

Consumers will simply turn the tap off if marketers don’t work harder to ensure that what they’re sending is relevant. It’s a shame regulation has forced this, but it’s not like you weren’t warned.

Elliott Haworth is business features writer at City A.M.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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