Monday, February 17, 2014

Big Brother Strikes Again (And I Want To Hit Someone Back)

A week or so ago, I got a box in the mail that had me scratching my head.  It was a so-called "Newborn Nutrition Kit" from Abbott Nutrition, your friendly neighborhood manufacturer of Similac baby formula, and was filled with 2-oz bottles of formula.  My initial reaction was amusement, since my youngest is 6 and there are no more little D babies on the horizon: clearly the marketers got it wrong in my case.  I tossed off a quick Facebook comment and moved on.

If you really want to read something scary, read this Forbes article.  It's called "How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did."  (And for even scarier detail, click through to the link for the extended NY Times article within the Forbes article.)  Take special note of Target's use of what people buy to predict whether or not they are expecting, and then their further deliberate deviousness of tailoring the coupons and ads sent to potentially pregnant women to make it less obvious that the company is data mining and then specifically targeting them based on their suspected gestational status.

Now, I very rarely shop at Target because they don't have any stores near me.  I have absolutely NO idea what I would have purchased recently (or where!) that would have led somebody's mathematicians and marketers to have put two and two together to get five and sell my data to Abbott so that it could start sending me formula.  Clearly, as my case demonstrates, their statistical models aren't perfect.  But apparently they work well enough to justify the existence of these programs.  And Abbott has clearly put a lot of thought into this: check out this blog post, which details one family's experience with multipronged Similac-marketing efforts.

Yeah, the idea that the retail industry is speculating as to my family planning is annoying, intrusive and slimy.  But what tipped me over the edge to actual anger was the responses I received to the Facebook comment I mentioned above.  You see, some of the expectant mothers targeted by these marketers aren't actually fortunate enough to deliver healthy babies.  Sometimes, those babies are miscarried, or stillborn.  And none of these marketers seem to be worried about whether their damned statistical models are figuring that part of it out.  So, these mothers who have already suffered a great loss are painfully reminded of it.  Around the due date for a baby who is no more, they unexpectedly receive formula in the mail.  Or baby product coupons.  From a company that they did not register with, that should not even know that they were expecting a child and clearly does not know that it was lost to them.  How unbelievably cruel and insensitive.  One friend was crying as she recounted her experience with this to me.   You would think it very shortsighted, as well, given the statistic I've seen that about a third of pregnancies end in miscarriage: maybe if enough people get angry at these marketers, they will adjust their approach.  The friend I mentioned actually tracked down the information for the marketing director of Similac and expressed her fury personally!!  

I am not meaning to target (ha) only Target and Similac here.  I'm sure that all retailers and formula manufacturers use similar programs.  As I recall, back in the days when I was actually having babies, I somehow got on the list for whatever company makes Enfamil, and they kept sending me formula and coupons too.  At the time it annoyed me only because I kept having to find people to donate them to, but I think that if I had lost a pregnancy I would have taken the same approach my friend did and ripped some marketing person a new one.

Time to think about making more purchases in cash, indeed!

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