DNA and advertising marketing

04 June 2015  |   0 Comments   |    |  

It all begins in the land of the rising sun...

...well, not necessarily everything, but at least this article and this reflection on the link between genetics and marketing. On discovering the Hong Kong advertising campaign below, our first reaction was "Whaoo... that's a cool campaign". It wasn't until the second reading that a whole host of ethical questions arose... just goes to show you should always be wary of a good ad.

The "little Swiss-Asian"... is not as green as the "Swiss".

They say it's not bong to walk around Hong Kong in flip-flops. It's one of the most polluted cities in the world, both in the air and on the streets. If, in terms of "tax havens", we're talking about Little Swiss-Asia, in terms of the environment, the parallel is far from being as true. To raise awareness of pollution, the Ogilvy & Mather agency and the Hong-Kong Clean Up, Ecozine and The Nature Conservancy organizations have set up a campaign that is as astonishing as it is creepy.
To stigmatize polluters, they've brought out the big scientific guns. In the most polluted neighborhoods, teams collected cigarette butts and chewing gum, then investigated to recover DNA traces that would lead them to draw up composite portraits of the polluters.

Parabon Nanolabs, an American company specializing in the study of DNA for therapeutic purposes, led the investigation. Analysis of these samples created a visual representation of the culprits who abandoned their waste. This data, combined with other demographic factors, was used to determine the approximate age of the individuals. The portraits were then displayed on billboards around town and broadcast on the Internet, along with a video warning the public.
The main aim is to raise awareness of eco-responsibility among these individuals, so that they can become more aware of their actions and what's at stake for the planet.

Ethnicity and generic marketing

While this is one of the first examples of the use of DNA analysis in advertising, and the cause is obviously legitimate, it does raise a few concerns. We don't want "our favorite marketers" to get too fond of DNA sequencing, and our genetic privacy to become the Holy Grail of advertising profiling. You know, that genetic intimacy that will interest your insurer in avoiding insuring you in the event of a pre-determined cancer risk.
Let's start with a little legal advice. Waste on the public highway implies that its former owner has relinquished his right of ownership. In legal jargon, waste becomes res derelictae, which means that it is voluntarily abandoned to the first person who is interested in its contents or who wants to take possession of it, as is usually the case with bulky items and household refuse. From then on, our DNA traces on the cigarette butt no longer belong to us. So don't think that I'm going to advocate the use of electronic cigarettes to save you from a wild genetic sequencing !

[Back to the subject at hand...]

To tell the truth, this fear of a few savant-apprentice-geneticists joining marketing teams is nothing new. We've been talking about it for the past decade. It took 13 years, from 1990 to 2003, and $3 billion to decipher the 3 million pairs of nucleotides, the "letters" that make up human DNA. Today, the most powerful machines can perform the same operation in a few hours and for less than 1,000 dollars, and some are announcing prices of 200 to 300 dollars for soon, and a few dollars for just after soon. So why deprive yourself of millions of kilobytes of the most accurate information possible on your marketing target? To hurry up and sell him a "peace-maker-plated-gold" before he declares his heart problems?

"Future creep" get out of that body!
Socrates' pupils liked to ask him whether virtue was teachable or not. I propose that "Socrates" be added to the curriculum of business schools.

DNA and marketing

"Brand DNA": who hasn't heard or even used this expression? (I apologize!). It's the guilty pleasure of practitioners of soft sciences like marketing, who openly envy the so-called hard sciences and plunder their jargon to lend credibility to their own discipline. Marketers use words and concepts that simplify the complex and uncertain. So, to sound serious, the marketer repeats these 3 magic letters over and over again... DNA...DNA...DNA...
Yet the scientific definition of DNA doesn't really match marketing's need for differentiation and uniqueness. The chemical molecule DNA is 99.5% identical from one individual to another, with only 0.5% of the "code" changing. This is a far cry from the differentiating element that is supposed to encapsulate a brand's uniqueness from its competitors.
The hard-scientists have good reason to laugh at the soft-scientists of marketing, and we have good reason to switch to electronic cigarettes to avoid being profiled without our knowledge.

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