If you saw the recent article in the New York Times discussing the use of algorithms to generate adverts within your Facebook homepage or your Gmail inbox, I’m sure you’re aware of how this works. The algorithm takes your personal interests and uses them to create perfectly tailored adverts. To most people, that’s a smart way of ensuring that your advertising becomes more focused and targets people more likely to finish the load-see-browse process with an actual purchase.
To me, it’s an invasion of privacy. You’ve got to think logically about this – if you’re targeting games adverts towards people browsing game sites, that’s fine. But if I log into my social media homepage and I come across a load of adverts that tell me that some bit of code has read through my life and is now pushing product information into it, I’ll get pretty irate. The location of advertising is as important as the advert itself. If you billboard a concert, that’s fine. But paste the poster across someone’s bedroom window and they’re likely to call the police.
Privacy is a huge thing. Now that we live in a world where one man has administrative access to the personal details, conversations and darkest, most intimate secrets of some 500 million people and counting, that small place we can call both “online” and “private” has become even more crucial to us. To invade this space with discounts, product offers and movie trailers borders on telling people that their tastes are based on the tastes they wish to share with new friends.
Just because we have access to someone’s top ten favourite metal bands of 1989, doesn’t mean we should actually use that data for marketing purposes. Most of the things we’ve said to a friend, a partner or a relative on the internet have likely been seen by someone, and have definitely been logged. Cardinal rule of data? Nothing is ever completely deletable. But just because we’re given the option to lock ourselves off using viewing privileges (friends-only Facebook pages, for example) doesn’t mean we should have to do so.
Think about your image, say, as a small business selling indie videogames. If you stick a few ads up on albinoblacksheep, or Kongregate, you’re likely to be marketing very well. But the idea of someone listing Balloon Wars 9838 in a status post at some point on Facebook engendering a week-long stretch of Balloon Wars 9838 2: The Reckoning adverts should make you uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, think about your identity. You’re a small business. You’re one of the good guys. Don’t let that go because you want to shift another few copies of your latest release.
Keep in touch with your community, and advertise to them through paying attention. I once wrote an article on GamersGate for The Escapist, a digital distribution platform for videogames, a site that focuses on the indie credibility and deeper subtext of gaming. It might be worth a read if you want to learn how a small company has absolutely exploded because of their commitment to their fans. As I speak, and over the last 48 hours, their latest release, Magicka, has rocketed to the top of the Steam (another sales platform) charts. One of the reasons that happened is because CEO Frederik Wester is constantly twittering away and asking people to moan at him about bugs or link him to reviews, because he wants to read them. I know this from my personal experiences with him as an interview subject and an acquaintance.
Keep people happy, just don’t crowd them too much. It’s all too easy to stop logging in to a site so swamped with ads you’d swear you’d stumbled into the CGI back-catalogue for Bladerunner. You’ve been warned.