Targeted Advertising? Really?

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Photo by Cliff1066, Painting by Jasper Johns

This is somewhat of a tangential post, and it is the result of a rant I expressed on twitter. Some of the answers got my mind racing (thanks, @broadbandtrebds and @EveGr), but the reason I'm writing a post out of it is that ultimately it has some relevance to the holy grail of broadband business models: targeted advertising.

Before I get there, let me explain one of the quirky aspects of the life of an analyst. There are two reasons why companies like analysts. The good, and the not so good.

  • The good reason is that - assuming we do our job adequately - we provide insight on the dynamics of a specific market, and that insight is valuable to players in this market looking for a broader view than the one they can get from their own corporate windows.
  • The not so good reason is that the vendor part of the market expect us to endorse their products in our writing. A good analyst should never do that, of course, but sometimes even a mention in a report is considered worth some effort, especially by the smaller vendors who are after visibility more than anything else.

As a consequence, small vendors pay PR firms to target analysts and try to organise briefings in the hope that said briefings will result in a mention in a report. The end result is we get emailed to death by tech PR.

These are not technically spam emails (although they are automated for sure), but they feel exactly like that. Here's what they often look like. I got this this morning, and have edited the names to avoid naming and shaming:

Hi Benoit

If you are attending [Expo] next week, we cordially invite you to come see [Executive] speak on a SIP Trunking Panel on [Date and Time].  Please see the session details below.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Best, [Name of PR Lady]

I get at least a few of these every day, and sometimes I'll get 5 or 10 in a single day. In december and January, with the confluence of MWC and CTIA, it can get up to 20 a day. Now that's painful at any times, but it's particularly painful because most of these are on topics that I don't write about and (indirectly) from vendors that are not and shouldn't be on my radar.

I probably get more of these than some of my colleagues in the industry because I started as a mobile enterprise analyst for Yankee Group. Therefore not only do I get such sollicitations from PR firms working for vendors in the broadband space (which I'm not complaining about), but I get stuff from vendors in the enterprise space and vendors in the mobile space too. And that's a lot of vendors.

SIP Trunking. Enterprise Security. App Developer Kits. Mobile OSs. CRM. Billing Systems. Mobile Security. PBXs. Convergence. Data Protection. Software Testing. Self-Customer Service. These are a few of the topics I've been sollicited about in the last few days.

The reason this pisses me off (pardon my French)? I've emailed every single one of these PR agencies to tell them that I was no longer interested in these topics. For some I've emailed several times, and even gotten a little harsh about it. To no avail. Once in the listings, forever in the listings.

Beyond my personal irritation and the probable irritation of some of my colleagues and counterparts in the analysis business, I'm wondering if this doesn't tell us something about the holy grail of targeted advertsing. Broadband service providers have a lot of hope that the eyeballs that they aggregate via the services they provide will one day soon be leveraged with targeted advertising. And because the advertising is targeted, it will be worth a lot more...

Instead, this little personal anecdote tells me one thing: if highly paid PR professionals working to promote the brand of their tech customers are not capable of properly targeting a small population of easily identifiable analysts with messages that are relevant to them, what are the chances of seeing accurate mass targeted advertising for consumers? Targeted advertising that is seen as a benefit and not an irritation because it's relevant ?

Not a chance in hell.