Privacy, PR, and How One Company Got it Right

Privacy. It’s been a real hot button issue over the past few years. You can’t turn on the TV or read a news article without hearing about how our privacy is being exploited. The NSA, Edward Snowden, Facebook, Big Data, the list goes on and on. As marketers, we often find ourselves treading in muddied waters. What’s too intrusive? Is this unethical? Are we really benefiting the consumer?

Remember when people would complain, “how did you get my name?” Now, those same people would be thrilled if that’s all online firms and social media sites knew about them. There’s an exact balance somewhere where merchants and consumers would be in perfect harmony if companies knew just enough about them; that is, companies would deliver information that the consumer would welcome and appreciate but not so much information that the consumer would feel  his or her privacy was threatened. You get a coupon in the mail for a free 3-day trip to Florida with the purchase of 2 more days, you’re happy. You get a coupon in the mail for a free 3-day trip to Florida at a Jewish singles resort or for Alcoholics Anonymous members; you’re upset because they’ve ventured too far into your personal life.

follow url Some of you may have already seen the video of TD Bank’s #TDThanksYou campaign. (In fact, I’m sure many of you have because as I write this, the video has already received 8.8 million views on YouTube and was covered by all major news outlets.) For those of you who haven’t, here is what they did:

Four TD Bank locations across Canada surprised a group of about 20 select customers with gifts that, while relied on looking into their private lives, were welcomed with open arms. These customers were hand-picked by branch employees, and were told that they had been selected as part of a study group to test out a new ATM machine. On the day these customers arrived for their study group and approached the ATM, they were instructed to insert their ATM card. Many were addressed by name and began to converse back and forth with the machine (there was actually a person inside the machine, don’t worry SkyNet isn’t coming for us yet) and were told that they were dealing with an “Automated Thanking Machine.” Some customers received small gifts such as flowers or cash, but others received gifts that will really tug at your heart strings and put a lump in your throat:

Dorothy was thanked with plane tickets to visit her cancer-stricken daughter in Trinidad along with a card that read “We have come to know how giving, loving, and supportive you are, especially to your daughter in Trinidad. She’s a lucky woman to be able to call you Mom.” Dorothy explained that this was her only daughter and that she had an operation on Tuesday.

see Christine, a mother of two, was thanked with two surprises. First, the ATM gave her two $1,000 RESPs for her kids (RESP is a Canadian savings plan for school), and it expressed that her kids would probably not be too excited about the gift. Then, the ATM suggested that the kids might be excited, “if you tell them you’re taking them to a place like Disney.” The ATM produced tickets for a family trip. Christine explained how she’d never been able to take her kids anywhere and hugged the nearest TD Bank employee.

watch There were also other gifts given out, both small and large. Some customers received cash prizes while another lucky customer was given a trip to a Blue Jays game and an opportunity to throw  out the first pitch.

So what do we make of all this? TD Bank did not rely on big data compilers (or their own credit info) to know what would make their customers happy. They used information in a way that was meaningful to the consumer. Sure, TD Bank needed the help of bank employees to pull off this stunt, and therefore, the analogy of this day to online data providers is not apples to apples. But, the point remains, there is a happy medium of using one’s personal information to achieve a long lasting positive effect on the consumer.

I know what you’re thinking: “Ed, what are you doing? You’re going to be black-balled by the marketing community for saying that we’re getting too intrusive.” Well, before you start comparing me to Don Draper when he wrote the open letter against Lucky Strike, let’s just take a step back and admire what TD Bank has accomplished with a relatively simple campaign:

  • They changed some people’s lives , for the better.
  • They’ve received great PR through viral marketing in a time where financial institutions are not exactly looked upon in a shining light, likely resulting in some consumers questioning if they should make the switch to TD Bank.
  • They’ve used their customers’ private information to help build strong, long lasting relationships unlikely to be broken.

Perhaps the greatest lesson here is that in today’s age of seemingly limitless tracking, data collecting, and access to personal information,  sometimes it makes more sense to just do the right thing, not necessarily the most cost effective thing; more often than not, I think you’ll find that they end up being one in the same.

Ed Bocknik II

Account Director

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