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Lost Souls Swimming in a Filter Bubble

We live in the age of the filter bubble. Person A’s algorithmically optimized feed confirms and strengthens their existing biases, leaving Person B to wonder if they both live in the same world, simply because they receive a different news feed.

Intellectual isolation isn’t limited to the consuming public.

This has always been the case in advertising and marketing. The technology companies and brands live in different filter bubbles. The available technology promised is wondrous in its ability to know everything about users and magically deliver ads and emails just what they want when consumers want it in compliance with every existing regulation. Brands, on the other hand—the ones actually using the technology—tell a different story. They’re still getting revenue tracking right, still focused on keyword discovery, terrified of data breaches, and struggling to comply with regulations.

This filter bubble divide was particularly evident at some recent events I attended. The tech-driven event is all love and roses and massive ROI, while the brand-side digital marketing event showed simply a new twist on the old storyline I’ve been following for the last 20 years: “Are we getting this right?” Brands are worried. Tech companies, not so much, but they will be. They will be.

What Hasn’t Changed

For as long as I can remember, the promise of the sales deck hasn’t matched the subsequent ROI found in –usually, if we were to admit it– the form spreadsheet.  It’s hard to gain trust in an environment where promise never matches performance. In the forgiving Silicon Valley of failure as a reward, tech companies make mistakes and move on to the next shiny thing. But brands have to live with their mistakes—even the mistakes they’re unknowingly (at times) led into by ad platforms and tech providers.

What is Changing

It’s no wonder that brand safety is now a concern. It’s no wonder more and more I am seeing marketing and information technology senior management roles merge. The consuming social public doesn’t share the failure as a reward culture. How can you reward allowing your platform to be used to sway public opinion by a foreign government? How can you reward exposing customer credit card information in a data breach?

Luckily for consumers, governments are stepping in. The GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act have forced attention on transparency. The dopamine-addicted public may be saved from itself by a few high-minded lawmakers who believe we should own our information, and maybe, just maybe, spend more time doing something productive for the world than looking at our smartphones.

There is Hope for the Future

We’re in a cultural moment for difficult conversations. In politics, in gender relations, and yes, in advertising. It’s time to ease decades of mistrust by living up to the promise of transparency, by making it more than a meaningless marketing anthem, and sitting down and saying, “How can we do this together?” How can we make the web, the newsfeed, the email inbox a nicer place while letting our humans own their information? How can we get our brand’s message in front of people in a way that has them living their lives, happier because we know our place is relevantly in their lives somehow not looking into a device instead of looking in our partner’s or our child’s eyes?

Getting advertising right requires rethinking our approach to eyeballs. Are we shameless purveyors of product propaganda harvesting every available data source in order to sell something or are we giving people something worthwhile? What would it take to bring more trust into the picture—on the consumer side, the advertiser side, and tech company side?