Advertising Should Not Get Personalized Like Minority Report

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I’m not a Futurist (though, it would be a cool moniker for the ole’ business card), but I don’t think that personalized advertising will be triggered by a retinal scan like that scene from the movie Minority Report. I don’t think that databases will be parsing your every digital action to customize in-store experiences that deliver a specific message tailored just for you.
I do think that stating this here is probably going to raise a few eyebrows.
I do think that marketing, advertising, communications and public relations will go hyper-niche. I do think that you will be getting the right message to the right person, but not because of personalization. I think it’s going to happen because individuals will only be engaged in social networks that resonate for them. The members of those social networks will all want the same message, because it will be a message that works for them.
Imagine you’re shopping at your local electronics retailer. You’re looking for a new wireless remote presenter. Through your mobile device you can clue in to your social networks to leverage the wisdom of crowds in deciding what the best option will be. Logitech recently launched a new wireless remote and the LCD screen on the aisle cap starts walking you through the features. You ask for the community’s feedback, but they’re not aware of this new Logitech wireless remote presenter, so you forward them the content.
Can you see how this train of advertising rails versus completely personalized ads for each and every individual?
What’s the big deal/difference?
I get no self-actualization points for forwarding on valuable content (or being the first to know) if every message is personalized and unique to the individual. What makes a great story is not how customized it is, but the ability to share, comment and discuss it. Bonus (and ego) points if you’re the first person to tell the story.
Technology is going to enable marketers to do some mind-blowing stuff in the coming years, but if we loose touch with how messages spread and grow our business (i.e. the ability to tell stories and share in the experience together), we’re going to go down a path that could kill advertising and marketing entirely.
I liked Minority Report. I thought that scene was cool, but it was not reflective of how truly great marketing messages build super-brands. I yap a lot about the growing power of personal brands and personal branding. One of the key factors in developing a global personal brand is the ability for many people to share a similar experience of what (and who) you are. If every one has their own individual, customized and personalized experience, human beings will have a dramatically difficult time sharing stories (and building a cohesive brand) because everyone’s frame of reference and context will be unique (re: different).
As cool as you think that individually personalized ads can be, heed this caution and hope that we’re able to connect stories because of similarities versus individuality.


  1. Minority Report was a good movie, but it was just a little to far out there. No matter what advertising space you work it, telling a great story is key. “Mad World” for Gears of War is a great commercial becasue it helped tell an interesting story and people felt it was speaking to them to some degree.

  2. I think the problem with your take on this has to do with the problem of the social network trend: the more niche specific that niche networks get, the less tenable that the model becomes. Basically, soon there is a social network for everyone of my interests, and it becomes very (re too) time consuming to maintain a network for each interest — human interests are just so diverse. This is probably the most amorphous networks (MySpace & Facebook) will have the most staying power.
    As for your doubts about a Minority Report-esque future, you should check out this article from the Globe and Mail form a little while back: Who’s watching the watchers?.

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