Surveillance marketing has to stop.

I’m talking about tracking people across the web, the troves of personal data, and the persistent IDs used to stitch it all together. Kill it. Forever.

It’s the root cause of our societal ills right now and I’m not exaggerating.

And no, I don’t mean doing it without consent. I mean all of it.

Personal freedom and responsibility are cool. But the tech ecosystem is too complicated – the implications too severe – to expect Average Joe to understand the tradeoffs. “Hey, click this box, let us spy on you, and we’ll give you free stuff.” Sounds harmless. Sounds fair.

But the knowledge in that barter is one-sided. It’s like buying heroin – but not knowing what it’s cut with. Should we ask the consumer to weigh those risks? Or should we make it illegal to sell heroin?

Consumer surveillance is heroin. Cut with fentanyl. And hydroxychloroquine. And bleach.

Only we don’t even get high from it. The idea that targeted media is somehow good for the individual is the kind of thing we tell ourselves to feel better. Wouldn’t you rather see articles and ads that are relevant to you? Hell yeah!

Wait, do I?

The problem is the data about me has gotten so rich, the algorithms so smart, that now I only see content I want to see. Eventually, I’m convinced that’s the only content there is, the only content I can trust.

And that’s where our horror story begins. You know the rest.

It’s easy to vilify Facebook and Google. I get it. But they’ve merely optimized for this ecosystem better than everyone else. Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

Behind closed doors, marketers and publishers loathe today’s ad tech. They resent the power Facebook and Google have, the lack of transparency, the societal implications. They long for the days when content and ads won on creativity, quality, and relationships with the customer.

But, at the end of the day, some executive holds them accountable for measurable ROI. And as long as Google and Facebook are the best at digital espionage, they will always win, forcing everyone else to race to the ethical bottom.

The entire system of infrastructure and incentives needs to be blown up.

I hope Congress has the will to do it. Enormous amounts of money are at stake. It would be like shutting down oil pipelines or fracking – except the workers would be more likely to land on their feet.

Isn’t it worth it to save humanity?

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Consumer confidence is in a holding pattern. It feels like our entire country is an athlete coming back from an injury. We’re optimistic, but a little tenuous. We’re keeping our expectations in check. And so, economic sentiment is temporarily frozen. The past two weeks of our ESI were net flat. Job numbers have been mixed. Prospects for the coming stimulus are muddled. Gas prices are inching up as global demand increases. Maybe things will calm down in 2021. Or maybe it’s a calm before a storm.

One factor hidden beneath our economic sentiment data is the impact of politics. Already, we’re seeing Republicans grow more concerned about everything from the job market to the effects of tariff costs on their household spending. Consumer confidence today is as much a function of hope and fear – borne of political tribalism – than an honest assessment of our financial well-being. That’s a relatively new phenomenon of the past five years, but it’s here to stay. And it matters to your business, I guarantee it.

Comfort eating out is on the rise. Between people who’ve been vaccinated, those with well-earned antibodies, and those who are less cautious about COVID in general, the percentage of Americans who are cool with eating at a restaurant has climbed to its highest point since mid-October. At the same, more and more people think the end of the pandemic is in sight – at least within the next six months. So, vacation intent is rising fast as well – especially among younger adults. We’re making progress. Hopefully we don’t blow it.

We shouldn’t expect many Super (spreader) Bowl parties. Americans at least seem to be wising up about big social gatherings anyway. While intent to watch the Super Bowl this year is down slightly from last year, it could just be because people won’t be going to parties. The majority of folks will be rooting for the Chiefs, although Tom Brady isn’t nearly as polarizing as he was in New England. We also studied Super Bowl gamblers, everyone’s favorite Super Bowl food, and a bunch of other stuff ahead of the big game.

People could be buying a Dodge to get out of Dodge. After a down-then-up year in 2020, it will be fascinating to see what happens in the U.S. auto industry in 2021. Overall intent to purchase a new or used car is running pretty flat right now aside from one group – city dwellers. The percentage of people living in cities who say they are thinking of purchasing a new car in the next 90 days is up 20% over this time a year ago.

Edibles are all the rage during quarantine. I’m not saying people who use CBD are a great proxy for the kind of people who like full-blown weed, but people who use CBD are a pretty good proxy for the kind of people who like full-blown weed. Thanks for taking that ride with me. Anyway, edibles are all the rage among the CBD partakers, with oils, pills, and creams way off in the distance. Gen Z is much more likely than older generations to prefer vaping, mostly because they haven’t grown up and realized it’s stupid to damage your lungs if you don’t have to.

Three other great studies this week:​​

The best poll questions this week:

 

Hoping you’re well.

JD
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