Paying Cash for Fast Food…and Allergy Medicine

HamburgerData suppliers know more about you than your spouse does. This is mostly because the information gathered from online forms and offline purchases isn’t cast in a favorable light or crafted to achieve a specific aim. It’s just a dispassionate record that’s collected about an event. A single record, or ‘data point’, regarding an individual isn’t particularly valuable. But when you consider that a leading data supplier owns roughly 1,500 data points per the 500,000,000 people they track worldwide — that’s quite an intimate pattern of behavior being compiled.

And it’s also why I pay cash for hamburgers.

No, I don’t wear an aluminum hat to keep the government from intercepting my thoughts. And I’m not interested in conspiracy theories. But when ProPublica posts an article describing an insurer that buys offline purchase data to flag ‘health-related actions’ – such as buying plus sized clothes – that gives me pause. Could this insurer, the national parent company being the one I receive coverage from, be putting me into a ‘Burger Boy Bucket’ that results in higher medical costs?

The $14 bottle of generic Zyrtec I buy once per year from Costco is beginning to make me ponder my shopping habits too. On the positive side, one bottle contains 365 pills, so reducing my buying frequency could help avoid being added to the ‘Allergy Relief‘ list. But since every purchase is tied to my identity (PII) because of the membership card Costco scans before ringing up an order, maybe not.

Digital Ads Inform My Purchases, So Track Away

This post isn’t meant to describe tracking or ad serving technology in a negative light. I began noticing ads for a product called ‘DropCam’ as a result of information I shared related to my wife’s pregnancy on Facebook – and I wouldn’t want to live without it! Since I travel quite frequently for work, the DropCam lets me check-in on my twins via a mobile app (I can even press the ‘talk’ button to wish them a good nights sleep as they are dozing off).

Would I rather see ads related to hunting or sky-diving? Hell no! So please, keep logging data points with respect to my visits to CrossFit and Google search related to the rumor that Skylar Astin and Anna Camp are dating – even though she isn’t divorced from her husband yet (What can I say; my wife and I recently watched the movie Pitch Perfect, and when she told me two of the stars were dating I looked it up).

Oh yeah, I also bought a new car about four months ago, a Subaru Outback. The display ads that began following me were generally helpful in keeping me aware of current offers, and contributed to me pulling the trigger (Couldn’t believe the interest rate was barely above 1%).

But until I feel reassured that the healthcare industry won’t use a once-every-couple-of-months burger purchase from affecting my insurance and reimbursement rates, I’ll pay cash for the delightful foodstuff. And no, I’m not interested in your customer loyalty card.

*Full Disclosure: I work in the digital advertising industry and am therefore a danger to myself and others.
**Fuller Disclosure: That part about being a danger was totally a joke; I can’t even look at a spider without recoiling in horror.

When Does The Company Own Your Texts, Tweets, and Posts?

WiFi-Privacy-ExpectationsEveryone knows that accessing your personal email at work means your employer can read your messages. Well, that’s not really true, in fact many employees are still unaware that accessing Gmail via the company hardware and network allows their superiors to monitor conversations.

So how many people do you think understand that the same rules may apply to personal texts, and communications via social networks like Twitter and Facebook, sent and received using the office WiFi? To be clear, the ‘rules’ might require your company to terminate employment for inappropriate content, or perhaps for using the network to connect a mobile device in the first place (depends on the corporate rulebook).

The Washington State chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a guide for students using school networks that offers helpful advice, such as:

When you are using the school’s computer and Internet access, school officials can see what you are sending and receiving online. To protect your privacy, stick to doing only academic work when using school computers. Check your personal e-mail or non-school-related websites outside of school, on your own time, with a computer that does not belong to the school.

Kids sending inappropriate content from a mobile device may not feel like a violation since the device being used isn’t hardwired. Lots of times your iPhone or Android may automatically connect to a recognized WiFi network without seeking permission first — same for adults at their work campuses.

Quick Fixes:

  1. Disable automatic WiFi connect
  2. Turn off the WiFi connection by selecting ‘Settings’, ‘WiFi’, and sliding the WiFi button from on to off, complete your message or view content, then slide the WiFi button back to ‘on’
  3. Never access your corporate network using a mobile device

TL;DR — The next time you’re sitting in a bathroom stall at work, getting ready to visit a website with inappropriate content or sending a crass joke to a friend via text, disable WiFi and make use of your data plan.

Why Every Marketer Should Study Responsive Content in 2013


23% of adults swear at their phones when a site they visit doesn’t work.


96% of people with smartphones report visiting a site that was obviously not not built for the mobile web.

(Source: Google, ‘What Users Want Most From Mobile Sites Today’)

The Best Websites Create Reader-Specific Experiences

Hi, my name is Joe, and I’m a tech news junkie. I can’t start my day without scouring boards like Hacker News and The Verge, but I start questioning my sanity after checking back a few hours later during a 5 minute headline reboot, only to discover the same now-stale headlines. Blah!

It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

Instead of loading the newest stories at the top of the page and trailing down in order of freshness, some developers and content creators are endeavoring to make each visit unique to the visitor entering the site. For example, if I’m coming to your site for the first time today, perhaps I discover the following:


But what about people who visit more than once per [insert time variation here: day / week / month]? Using code like aware.js gives you the power to customize the experience for these avid readers:


Notice the differences in layout? To the first time visitor each piece of content is fresh and new, so it makes sense to feature multiple links with equal weight and allow the user to guide their experience. Returning visitors, like me hitting a tech blog for the second time in a day, can be easily turned off by stories perceived as ‘old news’. The second layout puts far more weight on a single piece of new content that is intended to hold my attention.

Dollars and Cents Rationale: Newspapers are losing print ad revenue at seven times the rate they grow digital ad dollars. Building stickier, more user-centric platforms is essential to growing — and holding onto — your market share.

Native, i.e. Intelligent, Advertising Opportunities Emerge for Publishers

Content reformatting is relatively simple (All you need is a bit of code and the willingness to try something new). Integrating more compelling advertisements is trickier, but more possible than ever thanks to the pioneering efforts of businesses like Facebook and Buzzfeed.

Facebook’s Sponsored Stories, for example, build ad units that are based on actions users take in support of a brand. If I like a story about Proctor and Gamble’s Tide Detergent setting up disaster relief support via the ‘Loads of Hope‘ campaign, this single action can be used to feature Tide as a story in the News Feeds of my friends (Remember, they will see the ‘ad’ as a vote by me on behalf of Tide).

BuzzFeed focuses on creating opportunities for brands to receive earned media attention by sponsoring content (A little more involved than buying actions that trigger ads using the Facebook model). But this is still a third party network…what about more effective content/advertising delivery on your own digital presence?

What if you could identify users by name and explicit interest categories/products/services in the milliseconds between the time they enter your URL in their browser and load the page on their device? Thanks to the emergence of real time bidding, that’s already happening on the supply side (Google Display Network, etc). It’s become easier to define users based on browsing history (intent), directly relevant previous visits (retargeting), and the topic presented on a given page (contextual) and serve ads accordingly.

What about individual sites extracting the information available from anonymized cookies to create more compelling experiences for visitors?

How much more effective would my conversion rate be if my digital property auto-detected the fact your name is Bill Rogers, a 34-year-old tax attorney from Reading, PA with an advanced degree in mathematics and season tickets to the Pittsburgh Steelers? Would I serve you more refined content and match it against optimized ‘native ads’ (i.e. sponsored content)?

Perhaps my inventory/products/services would load differently depending on whether you were a returning visitor, and based on specific user categories we just mentioned. Think this stuff is far off, or that the technology will be too hard to scale?

Consider the EyeSee Mannequin by Italian manufacture Almax SpA. Cameras inside the models utilize facial recognition software to help store owners determine the groups spending the most time with their merchandise. It’s only a matter of time before this technology syncs directly with advertising databases (Of course, there are still options for avoiding online tracking, but the tradeoff in relevance and usability may not be worth it).

If you’re a marketer interested in reaching shoppers/users more effectively this year, set a Google Alert for “Responsive Content”, make sure to follow innovators like Clay Christensen, and consider investing time with free tools like Codecademy to grow your understanding of the code powering these new solutions.