Opinion

Data privacy is a short-term distraction from the bigger problem of short-termism

As marketers continue to distract themselves with data privacy and a sprinkling of GDPR, Rob Farmer argues the real problem is staring us in our face: short-termism.

Facebook Snr has been in front of the masters and agreed to rein it in. But reining what in, and to where, was not necessarily grasped by some of the Montys and Pythons in the chamber.

Disrupted Media has feigned outrage, while frenziedly developing ad break addressability, and continuing to spend on social platforms. Big consultants have kept their heads down, “just because we can doesn’t mean we should” isn’t really their thing. Marketing has embraced a new acronym, GDPR, lavishing it with conferences and eDM headers.

GDPR is the new name of the marketing game

Some people are suggesting this great re-adjustment, this redrawing of the line on privacy, is a huge issue.

I don’t get it.

Surely there’s a bigger issue, if you’re in the business of oiling the economy’s wheels. We’ve never had so much evidence that the biggest winners think and act long term, and yet we’ve never been in such a shit-storm of short-termism.

Executions without campaigns. Campaigns without platforms. Award ceremonies with minimal recognition of what’s lasted longer than a couple of months, let alone the intervening year.

It’s not like getting your head around climate change, where the effort leaves the door slightly ajar for the evidence-deniers to put their arm in and charcoal ‘inconclusive’ on it.

We’ve all seen the charts and no one seems to be denying the evidence.

From the IPA to Binet & Field, to those handy summaries from Tom Roach, to Sharp to Ritson, to Kahneman; our quick decision-making system and the long term stimulus it requires is clear.

It’s like we’re where we were with cigarettes and cancer. Everyone had the facts, but nature couldn’t help go for the quick hit. 24/7 surround sound, multiscreen media is so hungry on attention and energy, especially when you’re a contributor of content and you want to check on your baby every minute.

So, another irony: marketers indulging their own impulses, not applying more effortful thought to make the harder, long term, decisions they know will more largely influence consumers’ impulses to their benefit.

And the need runs deeper than communications, to underlying business strategy, and foundation brand DNA. If two very big, complex ships with complex shareholder situations can do it, can’t everyone?

Here’s Paul Polman, Unilever CEO since 2009:

“One of the things I had to do was to move the business to a longer-term plan… We had become victims of chasing our own tail, cutting our internal spending in capital, R&D, or IT to reach the market expectations.

“We were developing our brand spends on a quarterly basis and not doing the right things, simply because the business was not performing. We were catering to the shorter-term shareholders.

“So I said, ‘We will stop quarterly reporting…’ I explained we were going to run the business for the longer term. We were going to invest in capital spending. We were going to invest in training and development. We were going to invest in new IT systems. And we were going to invest back in our brand spending.”

Unilever’s sustainable brands are now delivering 70% of its growth.

And here’s a letter Jeff Bezos wrote 21 years ago.

The short term will inevitably spin faster. If the instruction is “I don’t care which brand so long as they’re to be trusted, (or, I don’t care which brand out of this shortlist), I just want the lowest price,” then it’s a battle of price-match, package deal automation.

In this context, long-built brand preference gets you as far as Alexa’s settings. Then it’s over to the machines, who can do short term even better than humans anyway.

If you’re a marketer, the evidence clearly suggests mixing both short and long, going heavier on long and using your ROI feedback to refine that mix.

Maybe we can draw inspiration from where Australia led the way, with those shocking images on ciggies to confront the addiction with the long-term outcome.

‘Pick of the week’ next to imagery of very modest regional aged care accommodation?

Mumbrella360’s Social Idea of the Year previewed with a 360 tour of cashconverters?

Rob Farmer is founder at The Inside Out.

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