Where is the line between Marketing and Manipulation?

By Carolin Hunkemöller


Technological advancements in recent years have given rise to more sophisticated forms of consumer analytics. In the 2016 US election campaign, UK company Cambridge Analytica was hired to support the marketing efforts of Trump’s election campaign by generating personalised advertisements based on the personality and political tendencies of individuals portrayed through their Facebook profiles in order to reassure Republicans and persuade undecided voters to vote for Trump.

Today marketing is much more a system of personal and individualised messages targeted at the individual consumer rather than the general release of messages to a heterogenous audience. However, as organisations possess more and more data about their customers and use this data in order to optimise their marketing efforts, where is the line between marketing and manipulation?

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Consumers and the Re-targeted Ad


Have you ever abandoned a shopping cart online but ads for that site began to appear on other websites as you surfed the web? For example, you visited a retailer like Forever 21, and the same shoes you clicked on showed up on your Facebook feed a day later. This technique is called retargeting marketing, an advertising technique purposed to get consumers to convert on purchases. Companies implement a tracking pixel or a list of codes into their sites to identify and mark the users who download certain pages. This stores a cookie in consumers’ browsers, which communicates to advertising systems on Facebook and Google. These platforms then display ads that firms bid for to offer relevant products to returning consumers, redisplay items consumers previously viewed, and offer special discounts and sales to returning costumers. Continue reading