Data Collection, Television, and Twitter

Curator's Note

The video, with its non-threatening tone and cutesy style (also see Google’s The Story of Send), explains how Twitter breaks down walls between various screens to create an integrated ad targeting experience where Television companies and Twitter work together to aggregate audiences for consumer goods like Trident Gum. For Trident, it can start a “brand story” on TV that can follow mobile audiences across different devices into their social media lives. 

As Twitter casts itself more fully as a partner to the Television industry, we start to see the outlines of what Social TV could mean as Television producers now have access to a new pool of data: your tweets. Through Bluefin Lab's (a Social TV analytics company purchased by Twitter) sophistacted algorithms, Television companies have access to what we could call unacknowledged data. This data does not exist because you voluntarily sign up for a survey or because you are a Nielsen family but exists simply because you tweet. This allows data collection to be pervasive in our everyday lives. Increasingly all our actions are data to be collected, acknowledged or not. 

But, of course, data collection isn't an entirely new phenomenon. What this video perhaps inadvertantly does is call attention to the history of data collection. In explaining how Twitter creates richer "brand stories," this video shows us stock images of the TV’s historical place in the home. In doing so, the video pinponts the historical importance of the realtionship between advertising and Television. Advertiser drivern market research has been part of advertising since the early 1900s. Acknowledging this allows us to ask questions that historicize the collection of data by various media indsutries. What can looking at the early history of advertising tells us about the role of data collection? What is the difference between advertisers seeking market data and the seemingly more sophistacted digitally-enabled approaches we see today? 

If we are to take contemporary concerns about the invasive data collection strategies of companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, or Acxiom (in addition to revelations about the NSA and PRISM) seriously, then we need to make sure we connect them to a longer lineage in the media indsutries. To understand that some form of data collection has always been a core part of media business strategies as they try desparately to close the gap between ideal and actual audiences.





Thank you for highlighting the history of data collection. I often argue that social networking services that seem new and invasive are merely manifestations of systems and human behaviors that have been present for some time but rarely cataloged. In some ways, I think that the targeted ads that appear on my Twitter feed are more transparent than the ads that appear on my television . Each time I am offered "A free month of Netflix!" I know that offer is a reflection of my tendency to discuss media studies on Twitter. These ads remind me of the commercial system I have committed to on the social network service in a way that the commercials on television rarely do. I am more aware of why the ads are being presented to me and how I am being profiled as a consumer. Rarely do I click on these ads because I am constantly being reminded of their clumsy attempt to translate my personal information into profits.

Hi, Ethan. I actually have started clicking on some of the ads that I get on Facebook and Twitter. I do it mostly out of curiosity as a scholar (the same reason I actually watch TV commercials). But the interesting thing to me is that I haven't always done so. And I think the reason I do so now is that this level of targeting is getting "better." I'm actually kind of interested in some of the associations Facebook makes. It has become normal for me that their targeted ads make sense. You know I like Hayao Miyazaki even though I don't have any "likes" for media on Facebook? That's okay, I do like Hayao Miyazaki! But, on the flip side, I am now a bit put off when I see ads that have nothing to do with me like an ad for Muscle Milk. I'm not in the market for Muscle Milk. Or am I?!?!?! And perhaps this anxiety is what gives me pause about these type of ads: there is always that fear that perhaps the media industries know more about me than I can ever know about them. In this way, I wonder if my meta acknowledgement of the transparency has its limits.

Michael, I think this ambiguity around targeting that you point to (and which Ethan indicates as well) is extremely interesting. It seems to push our relation to ads and our relation to our selves vis-a-vis those ads towards a kind of existential vertigo (I don't need muscle milk, or do I?), and layers of meta commentary. Maybe this twisting self referencing and self questioning is the logical extension of the play of irony in 'modern' advertising (Volkwagen's famous "lemon" ad)...

Great post, and one relevant to things I've been teaching lately. I frequently get the response from students that they don't mind such targeting because "Facebook/Twitter/whatever sends me stuff I like." But the Muscle Milk Effect (I like this, Matthew!) seems to suggest the opposite, that they are being TOLD what to like rather than the other way around. It just strikes me that students often see online ads as something they can easily "ignore" or "control," but perhaps that illusion of control is what makes this new form of social marketing most effective.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.