Don’t be creepy, and other ways to make data-driven marketing effective, from Recode.
Back in 2004, “The Polar Express” sounded like a sure-fire holiday hit: A big-screen version of a beloved children’s book, brought to life through cutting-edge live-action performance capture. But the movie flopped. During the post-mortem, many suggested that the film’s standout feature was actually one of its core problems: Audiences were put off by the overly lifelike animations. As one critic put it, “those human characters in the film come across as downright … well, creepy. So [it’s] at best disconcerting, and at worst, a wee bit horrifying.”
Welcome to the “uncanny valley.” The term comes from robotics professor Masahiro Mori, who described how people react positively to increasingly humanlike representations, until the point at which they get too close to a real human being, when they suddenly become repulsive. It’s this phenomenon that makes zombies and clowns give us the heebie-jeebies.
Sadly, in this age of Big Data, the term is frequently used to describe data-driven marketing that feels invasive, overly familiar, or just plain wrong. By now you’ve probably heard about the dad who found out his daughter was pregnant when Target sent her coupons for baby items. Or the other dad who opened his mailbox to find a direct-mail piece from OfficeMax addressed to “Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash, or Current Business.”