For the past 4 years Mad Men has been an award winning Sunday night TV show on TNT. The show has such a following that even the Wall Street Journal dedicates 4 reviews each Monday to the previous night’s show. Why does this show, which takes us into the halls of the Madison Avenue advertising business in the early 1960’s, deserve such a following and review?
The show, created and produced by Matthew Weiner, is exceptional. The characters are well developed with flaws that are personal and cultural. This was a time when people at the office smoked cigarettes all day and night and drank scotch, some midmornings and every afternoon at 4. The liberation of the ‘me’ generation with all it’s pot, free love and anti-establishment purpose was just taking root. It was a cultural inflection point or perhaps, a cultural tipping point.
It’s not just remembering the time. We are just as interested in the advertising business because we all remember the jingles, the slogans and the ads that caused us to consume. And we enjoyed the consumption. Nothing wrong with that. We just discovered that some of the honesty and truthfulness we relied on may not have been, like reaching for a Lucky Strike instead of a sweet, all that healthy. We also learned that the manufacturers and promoters knew it. Their motivation was the dollar not the health of consumers.
I see parallels between the advertising business at that time and the privacy concerns we see unfolding today through social networks. Interesting that privacy issues around marketing and advertising have been with us for some time. For example, we all complain about junk mail.
Where did junk mail make its start? Look no further than the Reader’s Digest. Some are old enough to remember the thick book of stories mailed out every month. The book would lie next to the couch or in a bathroom, and would get picked up in moments of leisure. The stories and articles were always well written, and there was usually something of value or interest to everyone. As I remember, there were few advertisements in the book itself.
The market was not quite so sophisticated but the company did understand the value of home addresses. Readers Digest sold their mailing list over and over and over. This was a significant shift from newspaper or television advertising to the masses to direct advertising to individuals.
Over time, zip codes were understood as marketing information; the buying habits of residents were studied. The value of the address data increased as telephone information was linked, allowing companies to call you up and pitch their product in person. Advertising insurance to Tupperware became the rage.
Then consumers began to rage. Over the years, people became so frustrated with junk mail and home calls (always in the evening around supper time) that the government got involved. And now we have no-call-lists and standards for home mail. Still, we feel we have too much of both.
Don’t get this wrong, I’m not arguing about the value of these activities– just the results. Sifting through those results (junk mail) may be worth the effort, especially for a young man joining a mail in contest to win a Dick Tracy police watch in 1967. (Note if you don’t know about Tracy’s watch, Google it and learn…we have dreamed of Skype for a long time.)
It also seems like the Reader’s Digest “give them great content in exchange for their personal information” model is back. The VC’s on Sand Hill Road south of San Francisco would have a field day with this business model. If we just get enough Reader’s Digests out in the market, in front of enough eyes, we can monetize the model and make millions.
Enter Facebook, lots of personal information and a huge privacy backlash. It’s Reader’s Digest redux– on steroids.
Internet sites we visit deposit cookies on our computer that follow us where we go on the Internet and track how much time we spend there. This information is extremely valuable to advertisers because it is segmented to show detailed consumer preferences and spending habits. This is great news for companies advertising or marketing products or services.
But having this information available is a headache for computer users who get tired of seeing the same ad and information follow them from page to page on the Internet. Eventually, the consumer mentally unplugs from ads they see on the Internet and stops responding– even if the offerings fit who they are, their culture, lifestyle, or even what they really want to buy next. Side bar: I remember sitting with a professor from the Netherlands at a coffee shop in Austin, Texas in the early 90’s. The Internet was still text and Andressen and crew were just releasing Mosaic. The idea of a browser opened up all kinds of ideas. The professor and I spent hours discussing how to sell a pair of shoes on the Internet. Of course, a concept like Zappos never came to mind, as we were more concerned with how to sell socks, belts and shoe polish along with the shoes. Oh well….
Are social networks a phenomenon that could be the next Reader’s Digest? If so, where does this lead and what are the privacy implications? Does society react with answers to privacy issues through the government or through private enterprise?
If Orwell were here today he would probably not be surprised that his ‘big brother’ has arrived, and it appears to be a partnership of technology companies and the government. We are photographed, followed, studied, and recognized if not as a person, than as an ip address. Our actions are both known and anticipated. There are satellites, drone planes and recording equipment that we never see but that see and hear us.
Privacy is a thing of the past. Junk mail and phone calls at dinner are the least of our worries. There are a lot of people who have detailed information about us and who use it. We should be prepared.
We have already seen the implications of a YouTube, Facebook, Google world where everything is potentially on display all the time. This means that if you care, you should live your life in a way that will make you and your loved ones proud at all times.
Maybe we need an Internet life-coach that provides structure on how best to live in this new world. Wait a minute. We already have that – it’s called the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. The government will attempt to deal with this, but as always, will politicize the issue for personal and party gain. It will spend more of our money and come up with nothing of sustainable value.
Private enterprise, on the other hand, will play a significant role creating solutions to solve real and perceived privacy problems. We already see it happening. Suddenly confidentiality and anonymity are words we see used to assure users their information is safe at certain sites and portals.
Use of these terms is interesting to me because a group of visionary entrepreneurs I worked with at Hire.com in the mid-90’s introduced the value of anonymity to the recruitment software market as a value to attract and retain passive talent. We believed that people who were seeking new jobs would be interested in a change if they felt safe about how their resume and personal information would be viewed and shared. The concept is a given today. Yet, resumes stored on sites offering confidentiality are scraped and the information sold as a way to increase revenue and value for the owners of the site. That is an important point, the business model of most employment career sites are designed to create revenue for the owners first. Providing a solution that provides value for the talent and employer first is an afterthought, if any thought at all. Job boards, corporate career sites, job aggregators, resume blasters and social networks all have sourcing value. They are places to find people or jobs; they are not great places to link the right person with the right job.
Basically all are based on the premise that if we acquire lots of jobs and lots of resumes then recruiters and candidates can search to find the desired information of interest. This process worked in the day when we ran ads in newspapers and took in information we could handle. But with the Internet and the numbers of people reached globally in an instant, the results have clogged the pipes.
Today, talent expects to send their resume into a ‘black hole’ never to hear from an employer, while the majority of companies are overwhelmed with responses. And they don’t have the human beings to discern and assess the talent base – no matter what storage and search systems they have invested in to handle the talent flow. In short, we have created a talent mess and I propose the Mad Men of Facebook and other social networks are making the problem worse, not better.
The business models Internet investors propagate encourage entrepreneurs to create sites that attract hundreds of thousands of eyeballs. Once that is accomplished, we can ‘find a way to monetize.’
I believe this approach is rubbish. We need to identify the problem to be solved first, then figure out the solution. If the market agrees with your approach, the market will digest.
We’ve lost this in most of our recruitment technology. If a solution sources 10s or 100s of thousands, that just gives you more junk mail to sort through. When it comes to careers, it is finding the one right talent for the one right job. Solutions today sell ads, seats and personal information and have lost the recruitment art of one to one relationships.
While the market is rushing to aggregate and sell job and personal data through all things social, it may be worth going the exact opposite direction—in depth personal interaction and asking people’s permission before using their personal information.
Just as private clubs have emerged in earlier cultures, so will confidential networks on the Internet. Confidential networks where people have control over the information they share and who they share it with. Networks designed and committed to business models that are transparent and ensure that personal information is never sold. Networks that provide a high degree of value for an understood and accepted cost, that are permission based, and that communicate only when the value is known.
These may exist today in certain markets and amongst certain groups of people. They do not exist in the talent market place. The words anonymous and confidential are used at sites but seem more marketing tools verses goals of the site to protect.
Reader’s Digest successfully sold individuals’ personal contact information because the people did not know. Now we do know. Check the reaction Facebook users gave Beacon. Social sites should expect more negative reaction when their personal information is sold to advertisers.
So, while having lots of data is possible, navigating the junk mail for the Dick Tracy watch is getting harder and harder for both the companies and the candidates. So it’s time to remember that finding each other at the right time is what really matters. I’m not sure that having thousands more prospects and lots of private information available publically is actually improving that process, as a matter of fact I’m sure it doesn’t.