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Marketing, shopping, and advertising in the age of Big Data

It’s almost innocuous—I bought some shaving gel. This one action launched a series of events that simultaneously impressed and very much creeped me out: I saw an ad.

Seeing this ad made me reflect on the journey of my data. Our story began a few days ago when I ran out of shaving gel. Absentmindedly, I announced to my Google voice assistant to add shaving gel to my shopping list. On Saturday, I picked up a well-known brand of gel, the first time that I’ve purchased this brand in a few years, and walked to the cashier. Scanning my loyalty card (who doesn’t love discounts?), I paid and then left.

From the physical world to the digital

Later that night, I opened the Amazon app to electronically window shop when I saw an ad. An ad for a razor from the same brand whose gel I had purchased a few hours ago. Slightly perturbed, I started to recall who knew I would be buying shaving gel. Had my voice assistant betrayed me? Was my shopping list available online for all the world to see? Not really. The only way Amazon could know was because my grocery store likely sold my purchase history to one of the global data brokerage services, and they, in turn, sold it on to the shaving gel provider. From there, it was easy for this well-known razor company to build out my profile and push ads to me on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and more.

Profiles, personas, and personalization…oh my!

As a fellow marketer, I’m genuinely impressed at how quickly the razor company was able to target me. I imagine cloud servers spinning up all around America to show me that ad. My store receipt passed from the shop in Seattle to a data brokerage’s server somewhere in the world and then to the razor company. Within hours, the company developed a profile on me and inserted it into their roster of ads. There I was, a series of 1s and 0s that an algorithm built and advertised to. I’ll always wonder how it classified me: does it see me as a married man who needs to shave? A 34-year-old who is interested in technology. Or am I someone who has an affinity for buying within the same brand? All are possible. All are part of my demographic profile. All are reasons I was shown this ad.

  linear diagram with symbols representing consumer data journey  

The merging of the physical and digital shopping experience: A purchase made at a store, attributed to my loyalty card associated with my email address. Sold to a data brokerage firm where the company builds a profile of me based on my age, weight, previous online purchases, and sells it on to the razor company who push an ad to my smartphone, leading to my eventual purchase.


But how did the company manage to recreate my shopping habits, track down my contact information and social profiles, and then target me with a hyper-relevant ad? And just what are “data brokerage companies” anyway? As our lives blur between the digital and the physical worlds, we create more data points for data brokerages to collect, analyze, and sell to brands who want to advertise to their customers (or future customers). These multi-billion-dollar companies with banal names such as “Acxiom” or “TowerData” use equally boring product names such as “identity resolution” and “mobile device matching” to create “a complete picture” of a customer. Your buying habits, your political leanings, your age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, and more are all available for a distressingly low rate (a list of 28 million emails is available for $299).

Data, data, everywhere

Admittedly, it is also a little bit terrifying how much these companies know about us and how quickly they can move from the purchase of shaving gel in the physical world to displaying a razor to a mobile device. As someone who has long come to accept the end of privacy as we know it, I’m stunned at the amount of data I generate and how much it is up for sale.

I am always on the hunt for good (or bad) examples of how a company uses data and the power of targeted marketing to push products to people. As we all continue to generate more data about ourselves and our habits, and as more of our physical activities merge into digital experiences, we’re going to have to contend with this brave new world of hyper-personalized targeted marketing.

Data is the first step on any digital transformation journey, and it has fundamentally changed the way that we market. But, it’s important to remember that there’s a very thin line between a memorable advertising experience and a creepy one.

Today at Audienz, we create data-backed marketing journeys for clients, and we’re ready to help you craft the personal messages for your customers at the scale you expect.

Contact us at to learn more.

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