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The Ethics of Targeted Content

In the current age of digital marketing, with a sea of readily available customer data at my disposal, I can (with only a bare minimum of know-how and technology) target an advertisement exclusively to Hispanics in Los Angeles. I can show different content on my website depending on whether you are likely to be a Democrat or a Republican. And I can drop a promotion on Facebook to anyone I think might be a Mother. Or a Muslim. Or a Mac User. Or all three. And while the concept of marketing to specific segments has a long history in the advertising industry that well predates the digital era, the scope and specificity with which we can now target gives rise to some important ethical questions. In this session, we will review some of the complex social, legal, and ethical implications of targeted marketing and content, and look at a few frameworks to help us stay well clear of the pitfalls.

Additional Supporting Materials


  1. How prevalent is targeted marketing, and am I evil for doing it? (hint: very, and probably not)
  2. Are there (or should there be) ethical boundaries to targeting content to your audience, or is "right" determined by conversion rate?
  3. Are there any consumer characteristics that we should forever exempt from triggering targeted content?
  4. When (if ever) is specific and relevant content _too_ specific and relevant?
  5. When we target content to our customers with the best of intentions, what can we do practically to avoid screwing it up and alienating entire chunks of our customer base?



Jason Carmel, Director, Marketing Sciences, Possible Worldwide

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