Marketing in the Age of Identity Politics

In case you missed it (or, "ICYMI," which I was unaware of for the longest time): we are in the area of targeted messaging via facial recognition. A digital billboard in Norway malfunctioned, revealing its source code and a very sexist algorithm.

Is it sexist, though? The assumption is that men don't have to watch their weight, whereas only women face societal pressure to maintain a slim figure, and must forego items like sausage pizza in order to please said men, who can become fat, sausage-pizza eating slobs yet still unfairly retain the love and affection of supermodel thin women, who exists solely on lettuce and internalized misogyny.

At least, I assume that's what the assumptions are assuming. This is getting pretty confusing.

(Anecdotally, and with absolutely no evidence to back it up because after about thirty seconds of Googling "studies on women and men's pizza preferences" I got bored and went back to my own introspection [because this the is post-fact era, after all], I can tell you that as someone who is both biologically and identifies as a woman, I am not particularly interested in sausage pizza. I like sausage. I like pizza. I don't really care for them together. I am more interested in finding good options for salads, because even though I love to cook at home, I hate cooking salads. [They're not really "cooking," okay? They're like... assembling.])

I digress.

Hey, this is about identity politics! Let's talk about that. It's an ideology that focuses on the concerns of social groups to which people identify themselves as belonging. Classic examples would be race, gender, religion or sexuality. Modern Millennial examples include iOS or Android, pour over or drip coffee, just exactly how lame is Microsoft, and seriously, can we all just have good health insurance already (that one is universal).

So how will this new paradigm of classification affect marketing and advertising? How will we segment demographics? I'm not sure it's so clear anymore. If the prevailing narrative is that something once seemingly as fixed as gender is now fluid, how will robots know who wants to eat sausage pizza and who wants to eat salad?

I'm honestly more serious than I sound, though. We are moving away from the blanket advertisements of television, which are ridiculously off-target most of the time, and into the domination of digital ads. Google and Facebook offer highly targeted advertising. When I recently helped an environmental nonprofit solicit donations through crowdfunding, I was able to target Facebook ads to people who had previously made donations to environmental nonprofits who also fell into a certain income bracket. Guess what? We had conversions. We had conversions that made the investment back from the ad eightfold.

And I don't think this is a bad thing - the delivery of advertisements to highly targeted demographics that are more likely to convert. I have found products I absolutely love through sponsored Facebook posts. (Specifically: tampons.) As we continually create our individual, complex identities that fall into more and more niche markets, does then the market respond in kind? When the type of advertising and marketing is specifically targeting identities we self-select for, is it then a truer, more pure relationship?

Perhaps the answer then is not through facial recognition, which rests on oft-incorrect assumptions about a person based on those classic identity politic characteristics. (And, if the billboard was sexist for assuming men want pizza and women want salads, we at least need to recognize that the allegation of sexism itself is assumed, stemming from the ridiculous scenario I described above.) Maybe the solution to marketing in the age of identity politics (and legitimate privacy concerns) needs to be a symbiosis between the information about ourselves that we freely, consensually provide, and what the market is looking to offer, irrespective of what we look like on the outside.