Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age

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Overview

We have all been to Web sites that welcome us by name, offering us discounts, deals,or special access to content. For the most part, it feels good to be wanted—to be valued as a customer. But if we thought about it, we might realize that we've paid for this special status by turning over personal information to a company's database. And we might wonder whether other customers get the same deals we get, or something even better. We might even feel stirrings of resentment toward customers more valued than we are. In Niche Envy, Joseph Turow examines the emergence of databases as marketing tools and the implications this may have for media, advertising,and society. If the new goal of marketing is to customize commercial announcements according to a buyer's preferences and spending history—or even by race, gender, and political opinions—what does this mean for the twentieth-century tradition of equal access to product information, and how does it affect civic life? Turow shows that these marketing techniques are not wholly new; they have roots in direct marketing and product placement, widely used decades ago and recently revived and reimagined by advertisers as part of "customer relationship management" (known popularly as CRM). He traces the transformation of marketing techniques online, on television, and in retail stores. And he describes public reaction against database marketing—pop-up blockers, spam filters,commercial-skipping video recorders, and other ad-evasion methods. Polls show that the public is nervous about giving up personal data. Meanwhile, companies try to persuade the most desirable customers to trust them with their information in return for benefits. Niche Envy tracks the marketing logic that got us to this uneasy impasse.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A lucid and unnerving read on the growing uses of database marketing." TheChronicle of Higher Education
Publishers Weekly
This fascinating and disturbing study considers the societal implications of the new database marketing, with which corporations delve deeply into customers' personal histories and interests using digital surveillance technology. Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, looks back at the evolution of marketing through the 20th century, when the emergence of national brands, mass media and retail institutions like department stores led to the democratization of commerce. Today, he observes, an opposing trend is gathering steam: the drive toward "mass customization." With increasingly intrusive information technologies, retailers and manufacturers are segmenting customers, tailoring advertising and product offers to specific individuals and routinely using customers' personal data in ways few people understand. Furthermore, companies are seeking ways to actively discourage less profitable customers, and in some cases, are engaging in price discrimination, secretly offering a few favored customers better deals than others deemed less worthy. If these technology-driven trends continue, Turow (Breaking Up America) worries, the end result may be a world of individually customized entertainment and news where no common culture exists and there's an atmosphere of consumer anxiety and suspicion of being cheated in an impossibly complex electronic bazaar. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262701211
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2008
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Turow, called by the New York Times "probably the reigning academic expert on media fragmentation," is Robert Lewis Shayon Professor and Associate Dean for GraduateStudies at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. He is the the author of Breaking Up America: Advertisers and the New Media World, among other books,and the editor of The Wired Homestead (MIT Press, 2003).

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Table of Contents

1 A major transformation 1
2 Confronting new worries 21
3 Drawing on the past 45
4 The Internet as test bed 71
5 Rethinking television 99
6 The customized store 125
7 Issues of trust 149
8 Envy, suspicion, and the public sphere 177
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