Sales and Marketing Software

Rant: Tech marketers' weapons of mass distraction

The world’s most precious resource is running out. Every day, an Amazon-sized chunk of it is ruined. Imagine a hundred Olympic swimming pools filled with football pitches the size of Wales, all containing the thing you cherish most of all – which has been spoilt, by some greedy corporation.

What is this rare commodity that technologists are destroying? No, not fossil fuels – they even make biocoal out of poo now. It isn’t ozone - that either’s gone or been forgotten. It’s not even the rainforest. That’s still a potential disaster, but at least it’s waiting to happen and besides, those trees could grow back one day. This crisis is more serious than all the above, because what they’re stealing can never be replaced: our time. Your life is cruelly short already, but marketing technologists don’t care. They want to steal it and sell you things.

You can never get back those lost minutes, hours, days of your life that have been hijacked. And these days, the theft of your time is highly automated.

They don’t call it time theft of course. It’s always given a lovely fluffy, innocuous sounding title, as if it’s something altruistic. Social media, customer relationship management, omni-channel client relations, multiple touch points. All these weapons of mass distraction are given cute names, but their main purpose is invading privacy, stealing time and branding you.

It shouldn’t be like this. There is nothing wrong per se with a bit of marketing. A funny ad campaign can cheer you up. It’s quite heartwarming watching women, say, playing volleyball and roller skating along the beach and generally having a good time – even though the product being promoted isn’t aimed at me. Similarly, a good joke in an advert can be part of our shared experience. A jingle can be turned into a football chant. A good catchphrase works itself into the national consciousness. Marketing can be used to enlighten us, and make us aware of possibilities we never imagined. At its best, it can help save lives by informing us about medicine and poverty and mobilising the nation into positive action.

But marketing analysts didn’t like that. Oh no, screw the creatives, they said, look at the numbers. So now marketing tech is in the hands of the sociopaths.

As with all powerful weapons, if it falls into the wrong hands it can be fatal. So surely that means we should create some sort of marketing tech gun control. The massive one-click-hits-all blunderbusses must be issued under strict licensing. Nobody should get their hands on the platforms of mass distraction, without a thorough examination of their technical, cultural and yes, psychological fitness.

The cultural test would be a simple assessment of each candidate’s manners, since these are the foundation of any civilisation, analogue or digital. Manners aren’t just a matter of minding your Ps and Qs and giving up your seat – but symptoms of your consideration for others. The Manners Examining Board won’t mark you down for using the wrong knife or drinking red wine with fish but a low human empathy score will immediately disqualify anyone for a Marketing Technology Licence.

Similarly, technical proficiency would be measured not by hitting targets – anyone can do that. Top marks would be scored for knowing when not to use the nuclear option, and for not pointing it in the wrong direction. Similarly, the creators of marketing booby traps will be weeded out by these tests. Any developer who creates stupid forms aimed at capturing surplus information will have their licence withdrawn. Candidates will be asked to design an online form for passport application, an operation and a job advert. Anyone who creates too many fields, asking for too much information, will be marked as a potential ‘marketing dangerman’. They’ll be asked to leave immediately and kept under strict supervision by state surveillance operations.

The final assessment will be a writing test, details of which will be withheld for now, in case the marketing tech deviants learn how to disguise themselves.

Technology is a powerful weapon for corporations. If we consumers jammed their computers they’d call it a denial of service attack. But when they hit us with an omni-channel onslaught, that’s a denial of life attack. It should be a crime.

Technology must be used responsibly. Marketing guns don’t kill people’s time. People do. So let’s make sure they’re controlled.


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Nick Booth

Nick Booth worked in IT in the UK’s National Health Service, financial services and The Met Police, witnessing at first hand the disruptive effects of new technology. As a journalist and analyst, his mission is to stop history repeating itself.

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