The Age of Attribution

terminator 2 image As TCT has long argued, big business marketing only ever grows. Hence, unless and until we create a new social movement capable of perceiving, analyzing, and countering it, market totalitarianism will also only grow.

Consider the case of AT&T, the corporation just now releasing new services that will allow corporate advertisers to achieve, in the still hugely important activity of “linear TV” what is known in the marketing trade as “attribution.”

AT&T, of course, is a venerable corporation, dating back to the early days of the Corporate Revolution, in which, under elite lobbying pressure, U.S. states began, in the late 1880s, granting investors charters stripped of prior “grant theory” limits on conglomeration and cross-ownership.

Recall, too, that, in the ironic year of 1982, the U.S. government compelled the break-up of AT&T, which by that time had become the 22nd largest U.S.-based largest business.

As of 2018, AT&T was #9 in the Fortune 500, and also, according to Wikipedia, “the world’s largest media and entertainment company in terms of revenue.”

In that capacity, the bigger-than-ever behemoth is now promulgating Xandr, the private-sector espionage operation that will “provide a premium option for advertisers and publishers looking to reach specific audiences at scale in premium and brand-safe environments”: attribution.

Attribution is the ability to know, rather than merely guess, how individuals respond to advertising delivered via conventional television broadcasts. It is the computerized tracking of specific individuals’ real-world behaviors. With such capability, big business marketers gain ground on two major fronts in “Audience Targeting”:

Use consumer insights from various trusted and secured data sources to better connect with current, lapsed or future customers. Identify particular patterns to predict future intentions and connect those individuals with the most relevant advertising.

Mobile, TV and broadband customer relationships create a holistic view of consumers and their various touchpoints. By continually cleansing and normalizing IDs across channels we maintain a high-quality data set. This process provides deterministic household and device mapping with the ability to add probabilistic scoring to expand reach.

Xandr, by the way, provides some tales of the resultant improvements in overclass command over off-the-job affairs.

One aim of such new power, according to Xandr itself, is to increase the frequency of moments “when a brand helps [marketing targets] find a product they didn’t know they wanted.”

The Future is Now

eyeball For decades, corporate marketers have been working toward real-time linking of purchase and media-use data in the planning of their behavior-engineering campaigns.

The future is now arriving, friends:

Twitter ad targeting just got more broad … and specific. Today the company announced that it’s giving advertisers the ability to take aim at more than 1,000 audiences defined by big data partners Acxiom and Datalogix.

Called “partner audiences,” the new ad feature means advertisers can now serve Promoted Tweets to Twitter users who have signaled purchase intent in specific categories off Twitter. Acxiom and Datalogix are dominant players in the big data industry, tracking and analyzing consumer behavior across brick and mortar and online businesses. [Source]

In honest usage, “signaled,” of course, means an intended communication. What it means in marketing-speak, however, has nothing to do with any respect for the intentions of the target populations, whose “signals” in this case are merely their ordinary procurements of life’s necessities, a.k.a. naive purchases of goods and services.

The fact that overclass agents arrogate unto their masters the right to treat such acts as “signals” from their victims speaks volumes about how illegitimate the planet-wrecking reign of corporate investors really is, even as it remains so deniable and seemingly benign.

Capitalist Social-ism

Social-TV-Ecosytem The word “social” is acquiring a rather interesting meaning under late-stage corporate capitalism. Like so much else in this market-totalitarian order, it is increasingly becoming a Trojan Horse for a specific form of exploitation — namely, the lavishly sponsored provocation of individuals’ voluntary but only vaguely conscious disclosure of their most intimate “consumer” behaviors and motivations to the overclass, sans compensation to, or control by, those who disclose. Q: When are media now “social media”? A: When the aforementioned activity is at the heart of their structure and content.

All of which calls to mind a story I reported in The Consumer Trap book, which I researched and mostly wrote in the 1990s. Here is the tale of which I’m thinking:

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Why “Connected TV”?

Google-TV Media capitalists are pushing “connected tv,” meaning television sets equipped with network interface computer cards and content delivered through an “internet service provider” (read: data harvesting) corporation.

Is this being done, as its pushers would have you believe, to expand the possibilities of what you can see on your television screen?

Let’s consult an expert.

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The Power of Targeting

This week’s Advertising Age has a story on what happened when it asked one of its reporters to be a guinea pig testing how much specificity a marketing research firm could produce by doing a routine marketing study on the life patterns of one of its reporters.  Using its databases, the unnamed targeting firm produced the following results, as described by the Ad Age reporter in question:

NEW YORK ( — I had to ask: How the hell did they do that?

I’m no neophyte when it comes to targeting — not only do I work at Ad Age, but I cover direct marketing. Yet even I was taken aback when, as an experiment, we asked a database-marketing company to come up with a demographic and psychographic profile of me based on publicly available information. Was it ever spot-on.

The company doing the analysis, which asked to remain nameless, used seven sources of information, including public records and census data, online-shopping data, catalog and retail-purchase history. From that it concluded my date of birth, home phone number and political-party affiliation: Republican (note: I was in high school when I registered). It gleaned the fact that I was a college graduate, that I was married and that one of my parents had passed away. It found that I have a number of bank, credit and retail cards at “low-end” department stores.

It knew not just how long I’ve lived at my house but how much it cost, how much it is worth, the type of mortgage that’s on it and — within a really close ballpark guess — how much is left to pay on it. It estimated my household income — again nearly perfectly — and determined that I am of British descent (here, I fooled the company; I’m also Romanian and Colombian, but the record didn’t show that). Oddly, what didn’t turn up was my occupation or e-mail address.

But that was just the beginning. What followed was the psychographic profile the company was able to compile.

A deep dive
It correctly placed me into various groupings such as: someone who relies more on their own opinions than the recommendations of others when making a purchase, whether it’s clothes or a car; someone who is turned off by loud and aggressive advertising; someone who is family-oriented and has an interest in music, running, sports, computers and is an avid concert-goer; someone who is never far from a web connection generally used to peruse sports and general news updates; and someone who sees health as a core value.

Scary? Certainly there will be people bothered by that level of detail and accuracy.

So, for those keeping score, such is the present state of this always speedily advancing art/science.  As I argued in The Consumer Trap book, the perceptive powers of the corporate overclass have long since dwarfed those of the Census Bureau.  And, obviously, that’s increasingly so.

And, for the record, the profiled Ad Age reporter is a typical navel-gazing yutz who professes himself untroubled by the results of his “spot-on” commercial profiling.  A soul who says he registered Republican as a college student, he writes, “I wasn’t necessarily bothered by the data as much as I was surprised and somewhat impressed by the depth of the profile the company was able to compile.”

Such are the sensitive, far-seeing folks managing the details of our future, ladies and gentlemen, thanks to capitalism.  Other people may be scared, but he himself is impressed.  So, it’s all good.

The Worst of Both Worlds: Afghanis Enjoying Both Kinds of Targeting

The latest Advertising Age reports on a truly surreal marketing campaign.  Inside Afghanistan, a country with one-tenth the population but only 1/1000th the GDP of the United States, the occupying army is now running advertising campaigns putting the burden for rebuilding the society squarely on — can you guess? — ordinary Afghanis:

afghan baby ad
click to enlarge

It’s hard to express all the ways in which this truly Orwellian item reeks of the worst possible kinds of hypocrisy and evil.  Between its adoption of the timeless Michelin Tires strategy of threatening the lives of children and the sheer impossibility of the core proposition (“Never mind your grinding poverty and medieval life expectancy, subjection to rotating gangs of mercenary despots, and the soldiers that have been firing rockets and dropping bombs into your town since before your parents were born — make your sons doctors!”), there reside scores of other deeply ill and immoral aspects of this effort at “targeting the targets.”

And some people wonder “why they hate us.”