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The Uncanny Valley of Privacy

By Lizzy Foo Kune | August 27, 2019 | 0 Comments

MarketingData and AnalyticsDigital Marketing Strategy and ExecutionMarketing Technology and Emerging Trends

Robots look creepy if they look too much like a real person:

white and brown human robot illustration

That “creepiness” is referred to as the “uncanny valley” in the field of robotics.

It describes how people perceive humanoid robots with extreme cognitive dissonance when the robot looks too much like a person. In short, the more a robot looks like your neighbor, the more creeped out you get.

If you’re a sci-fi fan like me, you’re quite familiar with the concept. It’s a driving force of movies like Ex Machina and the television series Battlestar Galactica.

(If you’ve not watched Battlestar, go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Okay. So, how does that relate to privacy in advertising?

People are creeped out the more a message is personalized to them. Gartner research has shown that the more data points marketers use to personalize communication, the more consumers perceive that communication as creepy (see: Understanding Consumer Attitudes to Personalization, subscription required).

That’s where the “Uncanny Valley of Privacy” comes in. If your marketing and advertising is too personal, and too real, your consumers are going to find it unnerving. As you use more data to personalize communications, you’ll find consumers become increasingly sensitive to their privacy preferences.

What’s a marketer to do?

  • Test your customers’ data usage preferences. Does purchase intent or brand affinity change depending on which data points you use to create personalized messages?
  • Segment your customer profiles into groups according to privacy preference. For example, if consumers opt out of your email marketing, create an attribute that logs that preference. Instead of personalizing messages to the individual, consider adhering to principles of personification instead (see: Use Personification to Balance Personalized Marketing With Privacy and GDPR – Gartner subscription required).
  • Provide notice not only about how you collect data, but about how that data is used (see: Survey Analysis: Postcompliance Marketing Privacy Challenges and Opportunities – Gartner subscription required).

The stakes are high for doing personalization in a privacy-compliant way. In our research “Rethinking Personalization for Maximum Impact,” we found that people report being likely to unsubscribe or quit doing business with companies whose marketing messaging they find creepy. The Uncanny Valley of Privacy means that instead of marketing to prove you know someone, you should instead focus on helping them accomplish their goal.

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