I learned this week of the term Madtech. Marketing and advertising technology. It’s good to see that cobbler’s child syndrome is alive and well in the world; they might as well call it Sales, Hustling, Interrupting and Tracking Tech.

Thing is, for all the talk about how smart marketing is becoming, driven by big data insight and phenomenal analytics, why is what I see of it so damn dumb? Banner ads in all of their annoying, interruptive, old media style glory. Who actually clicks on banner adverts, other than by accident?

And then there is the poisonous technique of retargeting. If you aren’t familiar with the term, you will recognise the activity. Imagine searching the internet, or searching on Amazon, for a particular product. Retargeting is what is happening when then, for the next day or so, you don’t seem to be able to move online without encountering adverts all over the place for the thing for which you searched.

It’s like going into a shop to look at something and then have the shop keeper trail you around for the next 24 hours begging you to buy what it was you looked at.

I learned about the term Madtech at the final of an startup incubator competition that Unilever has been running, which took place at Digital Shoreditch this week. Three companies from across the world were brought together to pitch to the judging panel in a disturbingly empty main assembly hall in Shoreditch Town Hall. There was a really interesting micro-business marketing concept from an Indonesian firm, a half-arsed social insight mining tool from a US fledgling, and the winner – a company from Sweden that is developing a series of beacons and software that will allow companies like Unilever to retarget customers after real-world interactions.

Looked at a packet of Dove soap in Tescos? This remarkable technology will allow brands to pump online advertising at you as a result almost certainly whether you wanted to buy it or not. The needy shopkeeper, chasing after you down the street in digital form is near.

Except is it?

Who in their right mind would sign up to be hassled in such ways? Sure, there are some masochists about, but would you allow your smart phone to allow you to be tracked in such ways?

Maybe, I suppose. I saw fleeting mention this week of an HBR article in which is was claimed that substantially more people trust their data to corporations than they do to governments. If organisations like Unilever think real-world retargeting is a good idea, maybe they are on a fast track to level that comparision.

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