The dark side of our personal marketing data | Kirk Grogan | TEDxSeattle


Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven We are all being stalked, and we know it. You shop for a pair of shoes online,
and for the next several weeks, ads for brown tassel loafers
follow you across the internet. Well, if you’re my grandfather. For me, it was a pair of Chuck Taylors. Now, we’re sophisticated enough to know that this cyberstalking
has something to do with ad tracking, big data, maybe even AI. But what made you feel the need
to buy a pair of brown tassel loafers in the first place? Just preference, right? You needed new shoes,
you know what you like, what colors would go with your wardrobe, so you picked those. Are you sure? What if I told you
you were groomed, step by step, to prefer and purchase those exact shoes
from that exact website, and that those same grooming techniques could be used to make you
commit atrocities? I’m not paranoid. I’m a marketer. And – (Laughter) And I have a theory. Consumers don’t fear
that their data is being aggregated, because consumers don’t understand
how it can be used to manipulate them, to groom them, to change their behavior. The average consumer is likely to believe
they’re a unique individual, that they have unchecked free will, and that there is nothing
inherently special about them to be worthy of tracking or collecting. From a digital perspective, however,
all of these assumptions are false. As consumers, we are not unique. While each individual may exist
in a small circle at their own quirks, constant and pervasive collection of data has allowed us to place them into a group
of thousands or millions of others with similar traits and beliefs. It’s these very similarities that allow marketers to review
what worked on consumers in the past and then guide new users
onto that same path. No free will is required. My job entails advising
billion-dollar corporations how to most effectively guide
their customers through these steps. And despite this, I myself don’t have
the free will to resist. I literally do this for a living, and I still buy products I see
in advertisements online all the time. Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes: tracking, prediction
and behavior modification. Tracking is constant
and, honestly, the easiest. When I say “constant,” I mean it. It isn’t only what website
you went to or came from; it’s how far into every video you watch, it’s from what device and where you were
when you opened every email, it’s who you’re around in real life. If every person in here gave me only
their grocery list for the next 60 days, I could most likely give you
scarily accurate information about you. Maybe I could tell you
what your work schedule is, or that you’re prone to taking risk, or something as simple as your
attempting your third diet this year, a keto vegan diet. (Laughter) It’s a small Venn diagram. And here I am saying
consumers aren’t unique, but nobody is unique when you’re simply
millions of points of data. Roughly 19 million people alive today
share the same birthday as any one of you. We track until we can predict. While online data collection
has made predicting easy, prediction itself is old news. Way back in 2010,
using only shopper-loyalty cards, retailers could track
consumers’ purchases so well, they were able to determine the likelihood
of a woman being pregnant, before that woman knew
she was pregnant herself. Think about that. Our data trail can spoil one of our most
intimate and celebrated discoveries. But how do they do that? While pregnant, women tend to develop
a unique shopping pattern. Their bodies begin
to reject certain smells, driving them to scent-free
lotions and creams. They also crave
certain vitamins and minerals to help the developing babies. The mother doesn’t have
to consciously shop for these products. Human biology demands it. And while individuals might not
recognize these patterns, when millions of data points
are grouped together, the conclusions become
increasingly obvious. Every major corporation
that collects your data knows that secret. The more data you have, the better. The better you begin to understand
everything your consumer does, the more accurately you can predict
the most effective method to sell them products. If you’re the first company to know
that a woman is pregnant, you stand to gain a customer
who, for 18 years, will now be shopping for a family. Okay, so data can be used
to track us, understand us, maybe better than we would like, but that’s not an issue, right? Companies know who I am,
and they serve me related products. It sounds nice, actually. It removes the burden of me having to find
the products I might love to buy. Here’s the problem: What if you are the way you are
and you take the actions you do because of strategically placed
ads and articles online? What if your behavior is being modified,
without your conscious knowledge? Has anyone in here ever seen
a social media quiz to determine what kind of dog you are, or perhaps to find out
what type of wine you would be? You know the type: Becky’s going to share on social
that she’s a Pinot Noir because she can doll herself up
or dress casual, and it’s perfect wine for any situation. (Laughter) Maybe a rosé, because you live
for a summer patio. It doesn’t matter what you are
or what you identify with. What does matter are the 10 non-wine-related
questions you just answered that are being compared
to the rest of your data to figure out what group of consumers
you’re most similar to. You give off data every moment. It isn’t only from the search engines and the social media
platforms that you use. Those are just the easiest
methods to track you. Everyone in this room
is giving off data just by being here. I know how much
your ticket cost to this event. I know what this event is. Plus, I know the opportunity cost. I know what else is going on
around Seattle today. So, I can begin making assumptions. Most people in here
are middle-class or above. You have a predisposition
to learning or disruptive thoughts. You’re most likely an extrovert
who enjoys mingling with large crowds, or you would’ve just watched this
on YouTube next month. (Laughter) You value being an early adopter
or the first to conform to a new idea or way of approach issues. So, if I had a hypothetical client who was selling, say, an arm patch
to reduce hangovers, I might create something similar to this: a sales funnel. It highlights the steps I have to take to guide or funnel
the audience members here to my goal of buying my client’s patch. Group TEDx starts with the nearly
3,000 people present currently – highly social, intelligent extroverts,
with disposable income, who like new things. Step one is to qualify. So I’m going to filter by age first. Then, I might hire influencers who other TEDx groups follow
on traditional or social media to make you aware of my brand by posting
or advocating for my hangover patch. Then, I’ll compare everyone who engaged
or clicked on that influencer’s post, and I’ll pay your favorite bloggers
to review my patch and link to my website. I’ll track every person
who came to my website and pay for a Facebook ad
to ask you for your email in exchange for my “10 Guaranteed Tips
to Beat a Hangover” e-book. (Laughter) I’ll compare everyone’s email
who’s subscribed to the upcoming public Facebook event
called Seattle Bar Crawl. I’ll schedule three emails
to go out to you at intervals leading up to the event, each offering a larger discount
on my hangover patch. And voilà! A few of these emails will lead to sales. Now, I’ll go find
a new event or demographic and I’ll go through
the whole process again. Bonus points: due to the many apps on your phone
that know where you are at all times, I have the ability to know
where you visit frequently. I email my B2B sales team, and they go sell 50 boxes
to the local 7-Eleven, knowing that all of you
are likely to be hung over in that area. (Laughter) It can sound complicated – and don’t worry
if you didn’t follow all of the steps – just know that these things
are intern-level tracking and marketing. A good marketer could train
a new hire in one month ways to isolate that info
through email list and clever targeting, and they could combine that
with their client’s internal data and start testing assumptions. Consider this: using methods I’ve mentioned, researchers at Cambridge University were able to understand
an individual’s personality better than his own family members could, after analyzing
just 150 likes on Facebook. They could understand
that subject’s personality better than his or her spouse could, after just 300 likes. More importantly, companies with this information
know how to make you engage with different products and ideas. They know what makes you sad,
what ignites a fire in you, what your vulnerabilities are,
and so on and so forth. Because that’s what we do
as marketers, isn’t it? We manipulate. We take a product
you most likely don’t need and may never even use, and we manipulate you emotionally
to believe it’s something you have to buy. “You need this!” This usually seems harmless, but what if these tactics
aren’t used to sell you shoes, but beliefs? Let’s look at that sales funnel again. Here’s a sales funnel I created after reviewing documents
and first-person accounts of Western-educated ISIS recruits. The strategy is the same. We look at our existing customers
and review their data to find other groups online
that qualify as our target group. Then we expose them to our products
and ideas through well-known individuals. Next, we might share information to them through these multiple sources
they already engage with or trust. Slowly, we drive them to echo chambers in the form of websites,
forums or social media groups that other potential
customers or recruits are in. Finally, we’re moving towards
personalizing a message to them, and we personalize this to make them feel like this idea was exactly
what they were looking for or they needed. And they’re ready to buy a product or perhaps fly to Turkey
so they can illegally cross into Syria. But every recruit was certain
they made the choice to join. Just like my Chuck Taylors – Just like in 2016, when Liberals and Conservatives alike were targeted with millions of dollars
of advertisements from a foreign nation – Just like today, as our political
and racial divides grow wider. A moment has quietly passed in society
that is desperately important. This moment was when
a small number of humans realized that, by compiling
mass amounts of data, they could proactively
and intentionally shape our beliefs. They discovered they could
funnel consumers to a goal and mold them along the way
to behave like the ideal customer, or activist, or citizen, or extremist. Nothing I’ve mentioned is what’s
up coming in the distant future, or what might occur,
or a possible eventuality. Everything I’ve discussed are things
I have personally done for clients. And I guarantee I’m not the smartest
marketer in this room today. But even the brightest people in this room
are not immune to digital manipulation. And peace can’t be reached by deleting yourself
from the digital world. What we really need is open dialog and a collective understanding
of how these tactics have divided us and how we can reconcile
those differences. It requires we all recognize that individuals who are
neither elected nor removable have the capability
to alter and impact our daily lives. And most importantly, it requires we all recognize that every single one of us
and our beliefs and thoughts we hold may not be as uniquely ours
as we would like to think. So to leave you today,
I want you to recognize one thing: Your data is valuable. It is valuable as a consumer,
as a voter and as a human. If you need proof, try to find a single person in your life who has never seen an ad
on Google or Facebook. If you can’t, it’s because companies
find all of your decisions valuable. Listen, your data is quite literally
your life story, and I sincerely hope that you were
the only author crafting that narrative. Thank you. (Cheers) (Applause)


  1. I just watch Ted talks to see how these people give great presentations infront a large audience without freaking out. I would be so nervous

  2. Our buying behavior should not be driven by what we want, but what we need…. it will solve many problems of the world today like resource optimization for future generations, reduce carbon emission due to over-production of the goods, all required things will reach to the last person of the remote region, and also it will take away human being from rate-race being followed blindly in present time….. Think before purchase, not because you have enough money to spend but because someone will need it badly will get it at right time with right price….

  3. Nice speaking voice!
    But your shirt looks stretched out.
    Didn't your marketing data tell you it would be better if you bought a new one off Amazon?

  4. If someone in real life was being followed around by a stranger (including in their home) who was recording all their comments and likes and dislikes, they would be severely pissed off about it – to the point of violence for some. This is the same thing.

  5. The whole principle of the Bourne Conspiracy series is that we can not only be manipulated but controlled. Control is the goal here, and ai will likely make it for real. In the internet of things can you escape becoming another thing. So i asked my friend, #10538

  6. We have been heading here since the 50s and TV marketing. Prior to this, advertising was predominantly informative. It told you about features and might provide a comparison with competing products. With TV, advertisin there and in print started working on emotions and needs like the need to belong or be better. They were creating need just like they do now. But they keep getting better with better tools. It boils down to objectification and alienation just like Marx and Marcuse said.

  7. Makes me wanna see my data files ahaha

    And also… just Waiting for the next big dating website to be made solely by marketers, include blind date packages and people would do it just for fun!

  8. Never shop online. NEVER will. I block all adverts and if I cannot I have numerous tricks. After that I have my own self tune out/ ignore any publicity. I am immune to aggressive sales suggestion. Further I boycott any product/company that is invasive. There are always hundreds to thousands of alternatives.

  9. Omg!!! This crazy scary!!! This is the damn reality!!!! And I believe its worst😐 even though he didn't want into much details this its terrifying to know that we have no privacy.

  10. Big data is simply a way to do mass cherrypicking. I need a way to make my life better, and my definition of "better" is incomprehensible to a mere marketer. They offer me multiple choices, 99% of them wrong.

  11. I share the same theory, the same assumptions and the same practice I am a marketer myself.before this video came out I already saw how powerful marketing can be or have been. Our core was arelady disolve, remodeled and groom to react to marketing stimuli. Our personal identity is slowly eroding as we become more expose to information and other forms of stimuli that shapes our individuality.

  12. Am I the only one person here who never click the ads from Google? Really? Am I that weird? Is there anybody just as same as me?

  13. like it! thanks!😁 We also publish videos about marketing! Could you give me some feedback? Thank you! 😀


  14. I watched a video about Fjalraven backpacks and decided to go on their site briefly to look. Weeks later, whenever I go on social media the first ad I see is for their backpacks.


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