Fair Game?

January 23, 2012

What is the nature of the advertiser/consumer relationship? I touched on this topic before when discussing Google+ and social media. But it is an interesting question. For years, the rule was the consumer gets content. In exchange, content providers sell you to advertisers. This is the nature of network TV and most websites. Think about the Gawker network. They develop content that drives traffic. Gawker then sells that traffic to the highest bidder. It is a win-win for all involved.

But is there a limit to that sale? For as long as there have been mailing lists, people have complained about companies selling their information to a third-party. Getting junk mail via the postal service is less obtrusive than email box clutter. Through its loyal legion of commenters, Gawker has access to contact information for thousands of people. Can they use that to direct market?

This is something I have been thinking about for a while, but haven't gotten around to until now. It started when I started getting email advertising sent on behalf of people by The Boston Herald. This wasn't a communication of some sort from The Herald that included an ad. We are talking about the Boston Herald emailing an advertisement for a third party.

I am not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I technically signed up for this by joining the paper's user community. On the other hand, I feel like I have a deal with the news industry. I respect the fact that you need to sell advertising to support your news department. In exchange for content, I ingest your ads. But, you can't just show up at my door or my inbox with ads and no news. That wasn't the deal.

Companies could argue that they have perfected the process of selling your information. Rather than just selling your information to other companies to do as they please, they are filtering the ads that are sent to you. They can also limit the number of ads you get and ensure that no user gets "spammed"--more than they are already doing. But still, there is something unsettling about a newspaper sending an ad for someone from their email account.

What do you think? Am I just behind the times on this one?

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Jeff Francis is a marketing geek who would never refer to himself as a guru. He is that weird sort who enjoys watching commercials and analyzing communication strategies. He is also available for hire and would love to hear from you. So, head on over to the contact page and get in touch.

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