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How Free Knickers Got Me Thinking About The Future of Personalised Advertising


I was walking past my local ladies underwear shop recently and was amazed to see what I thought to be the most targeted and slightly creepy piece of advertising I’ve seen outside of digital.  The shopfront poster read something along the lines of “Chloe, free knickers with every bra purchased”.  “Wow”, I thought, “How do they know my name?”  A split second later I realised that I was living in 2017 Britain, not the Wizarding wonderland of Diagon Alley and that “Chloe” was in fact a brand of bra sold at the shop.  Disappointing.

Fast forward a couple of months and the Piccadilly Circus billboards have just relaunched with surveillance cameras that can track the demographic of people walking past & tailor the advertising to those people.  For instance if a large group of Spanish tourists walked by a Coca-Cola advert will be amended from saying “Hello” to “Buenos Dias”.   

It’s been several years since Coke’s iconic “share a Coke with …” bottles blew our minds.  I don’t drink coke, but I bought a bottle with my name on it out of sheer delight.   Perhaps this is where personalised advertising may have begun, but it seems likely that my split second mis-judgement seeing my name in the underwear shop window may be where it is going.


I’d be surprised if brands had not already started looking ways to further personalise their offerings in similar ways and perhaps we are destined for a future where a shop front window, or a packet of ham knows more about us than some of our nearest & dearest.

With the imminent arrival of GDPR it will be imperative to treat our data gathered for such advertising campaigns within the as yet unknown guidelines, so it will be interesting to see how far technology and brands are prepared and allowed to go down this road. 

There are unsurprisingly mixed reviews of this type of technology, with some calling it ground-breaking and others calling it invasive.  Google recently pulled a “cupcake calorie counting feature” on Google Maps which showed how many mini cupcakes or calories you could burn if you walked to your destination instead of driving.  Some hashtags and tweets celebrated the new feature calling it motivating whilst others said it was dangerous for those with eating disorders and made people feel “shamed”.  What was surprising to me was that one of the focuses of a Washington Post article spoke of the feature almost not being personalised enough, as the feature did not take into account the specific calories found in different brands of mini cupcakes as well of the age, weight and speed of the walker. 

So it seems even we, the people don’t know exactly how we feel about the future.  In an increasingly impersonal world we get genuinely excited when something seems “warmer” and more personal to us, but we don’t want to feel like Big Brother is watching our every move.

What is for certain is that it that it will be a balancing act on a very, very fine line.  Free knickers or no free knickers.

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