Data Gets The Mainstream Treatment

A marketing trend has truly arrived when it’s featured on a hit Netflix show.

That's the thought I had as I was watching the latest season of "House of Cards." Aidan MacAllan, a data-scientist character on the political drama, conducts surveillance on millions of people to serve the agenda of the main character, Frank Underwood. Among other demos, Frank's team wants to reach gun owners and potential gun owners. The clip below, showing Aidan (played by Damian Young) dancing with abandon in his office while he runs data in real time, was especially striking. Is data cool now?

Search gets a little shout-out in the show, too. Republican presidential nominee Will Conway uses a  fictional search engine called "Pollyhop" to access voter data and rig search results to favor his campaign. The data plot points have caught some flak for not being believable/not being explained enough, but they do get to the point: data targeting is more sophisticated than ever and is playing a big role in politics today.

Of course, Big Data has made plenty other appearances in TV shows and movies in the past few years. In "Veep," a presidential campaign targets recently bereaved parents with direct mail. Machine learning is featured in "Her" as Scarlett Johansson's operating system character customizes to the person interacting with her. "Mr. Robot" and "Ex Machina" also carry data and machine learning themes.



Go further back, and you'll find episodes of "X-Files" and "The Twilight Zone" covering surveillance and privacy issues in one way or another. For example, one "of the more chilling" episodes of the latter show "focuses on an overbearing United States government" that disregards citizens' privacy, writes Adrienne LaFrance in an Atlantic article.

In reality, real-time marketing is still working out its kinks. A 2014 study from Adobe and Razorfish found 58% of executives interviewed considered themselves strong at targeting experiences to segmented groups and 38% reported they're capable of targeting a new customer versus a returning customer. Seventy-six percent of those interviewed said they're failing to use behavioral data in segmentation analysis and targeting execution.

Are these Frank Underwood-levels of calculated targeting? Not quite, but in the meantime, we can read examples of voter targeting from real-life.

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