The advertising industry is running into a block that’s going to challenge any new attempt to use technology to “target” people. I call it the expanding sphere of defense. It’s been around for a long time (circle the wagons), but let me show you how expanding spheres work in dealings with human nature.
One day in the mid 1980s, I assumed command of the television fundraising for The 700 Club. I asked Pat Robertson to teach me, so we went to lunch. There was an old joke at the time that the devil didn’t want Billy Graham, Oral Roberts or Pat Robertson in hell, because Billy would get everybody saved, Oral would heal everybody, and Pat would raise the money for air conditioning. Cute at the time and apropos, because the world has known few people who could raise money like Pat.
At lunch, he said, “People give money to ministries for these reasons and in this order:”
How does it help me?
How does it help my family?
How does it help my neighborhood?
How does it help my community?
How does it help my state?
How does it help my country?
Finally, how does it help somebody else?
This is a spherical diagram of self-centeredness, the default position of human beings, at least according to a Judeo-Christian heritage. It’s that old “sinful nature” stuff, and if you can get past the religious references, it’s surprisingly helpful in observing life.
I’ve found this to be especially useful in examining my own assumptions and motives and those of many others. You can use it almost anywhere, and I think the advertising industry would do well to examine it in light of the kinds of technological advances referenced in my previous post. Think about it. If we’re self-centered in drawing things to us, then we’re equally self-centered in keeping things away, even those “targeted bombs” that Madison Avenue so enjoys playing with.
In terms of defending all that’s near and dear, let’s look at the expanding sphere this way:
How do I defend myself?
How do I defend my family?
How do I defend my neighborhood?
How do I defend my community?
How do I defend my state?
How do I defend my country?
How do I defend somebody else?
I make this point to say that targeting the very center of that expanding sphere — with or without an individual’s approval — simply isn’t going to happen. Nobody feels comfortable letting strangers that far inside, where so much destruction can take place, so the number of people who’d approve such a thing is limited. And let me repeat that a small, mobile device is very much deep inside the sphere. It is a highly, highly personal instrument.
Okay, let’s assume that access isn’t granted or “approved” and that Madison Avenue simply finds a way to penetrate to the core. How long do you think that’s going to stay viable? Not very long, because the empowered bottom — the great horizontal — will find a way to spread the word, and nobody’s going to allow that kind of personal invasion. Moreover, this is just another example of business-by-toleration, which is not, frankly, a workable model for business in the 21st Century.
We have to reimagine this whole concept of advertising. Hang on; it’s going to be a bouncy and bumpy ride.