Creepy marketing: When personalization crossed the line


Personalization allows marketers and PR practitioners to tailor their product/service offerings to consumers. It has become basic and allows organizations to create an intimate bond with consumers. However, when personalization gets too personal, it’ll make the consumers feel uneasy.

Once crossed the line, personalization could easily backfire and become creepy marketing (or creepy personalization).               

Netflix’s Christmas Joke

We all know that Netflix makes recommendations based on our previously viewed movies. It’s personalization, and to a certain extent, it brings benefits for users as they can watch shows that suit their tastes.

However, things went wrong when Netflix tried to crack a joke out of their user data.

Everyone knows that Netflix is collecting their data. But not everyone is comfortable seeing the brand publishing their data intelligence on social media. This makes the audience feel conscious that they’re being watched. For onlookers, it could be funny, but imagine that this happens to you and your personal data? I must say – no, thank you!

Lesson learned: Don’t take user data for granted! Brands should take responsibility to protect users’ privacy, not make a public joke out of it.

Facebook’s infamous case of eaves-dropping

I’m sure that many of you have already experienced the goosebumps experience in which Facebook suggests you something that you and your friend just had a conversation about. Although Facebook continued to deny the accusation of eavesdropping, people just can’t stop wondering about the “coincidence”.

In 2019, the social media giant finally admitted that it listened to users’ audio messages through a third contractor. However, Facebook claimed that it was to improve the platform’s AI system. The brand still denies that it used the collected information to target advertising to users.

Regardless of whether it is true or false, Facebook surely loses its credibility among users regarding data privacy.

Lesson learned: User knows when they’re being targeted, so it’s best to be transparent right from the start, rather than losing reputation over doubt.



There are many more similar cases where hyper-personalization makes consumers feel insecure coming from big brand names, like Google, Amazon, or Target. It’s undeniable that many consumers enjoy the convenience of personalization. But overdoing it will make your consumers feel that you’re breaching their privacy.

If you don’t know where the lines are? It’s best is to draw one and let your consumers know about it, according to the following advice:

  • Ask for permission – be sure to notify users before collecting any data. Users should consent and be aware that their data is being processed. Make them feel that they’re actively giving you the information, not being watched.
  • Be transparent – tell your users why you want to have their data and be transparent about its purpose, such as to suggest suitable products, increase customer experience, or send customized gifts. This would let them know what to expect when they’re giving out information. And they won’t be caught by surprise.
  • Be mindful of your language – take the lesson from Netflix. A humorous intention may not sound so funny without the right context. According to the communication model, communication noises (physical, semantic, psychological, physiological, and cultural) would affect the receivers’ message decoding process. Hence, this leads to different interpretations for each individual. You wouldn’t be able to know whether readers are happy, sad, or angry when they come across your message. Their mood would affect message interpretation, so being courteous with brand jokes is the best idea, especially if you’re having an international audience.

In conclusion, hyper-personalization is a double-edged sword. Using it right would make consumers feel that the brand is attentive and caring, which will in turn increase brand loyalty and sales. However, brands should be mindful not to cross the lines and breach consumers’ privacy when pursuing this method. A bad impression caused by creepy personalization can diminish brand reputation and brand trust.

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