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Behavioral Targeting Enters Politics: Campaigns are World Wide Watching YOU September 6, 2007

Posted by judecalvillo in behavioral targeting, campaign, communication, political, politics, privacy.
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A friend and professor of mine, Gigi Johnson, recently directed my attention to a new venture by Blue Lithium (just acquired by Yahoo), known only as their Voter Network. What this network effectively does is mine individual web-surfing behavior from popular websites (a LOT of them) to target political campaign ads directly at you, according to your apparent interests/preferences, the next time you visit one of their sites.

A good analogy to this would be the way coupons are printed out for you at the supermarket checkout stand. Yes, I mean those coupons that seem to magically know you have kids, are going to need kitty litter pretty soon, and that, since high school, you’ve been trying to shed those last few pounds of “baby fat.” Now imagine that the next time you visit the supermarket the magical coupon printer happens to know that you’ve recently begun looking for work and blame the loss of your last job on “unfair” competition overseas, …so it spits out a coupon that reads something like “Vote for [or donate to] John Edwards: He’ll keep U.S. jobs and unions strong.”

Cool, huh?
Well, before you go cashing in that coupon, you should first know why such behavioral targeting technology could be dangerous for democracy…

For one, it could essentially give everyone a reason to vote for a particular Voter Network client/candidate. This method of individualization is dangerous because it gives us no sense of a candidate’s stance priority schema (the order of their stance preference/priority). Let’s say, for example, Lee of Long Beach might vote for XYZ candidate because, as the candidate’s banner ad expressed, they are Gay rights proponents. Ryan of Los Angeles might vote for the same candidate because the banner ad he saw said that the candidate is deeply religious. This might be all good, assuming the stances in the ads are true, but what happens if/when this person is elected to public office and they must make a decision of religious relevance that could exclude homosexuals from enjoying a particular right? At least debates and press conferences give us a feel for how a candidate might prioritize their stances.

But what if their stances aren’t true? Theoretically speaking, the level of individualization and issue specialization could be so microscopic that a female fisherman who would otherwise never vote for XYZ candidate votes for them because the candidate, according to their online ad, is an avid fly fisherman or advocate of women’s rights in sub-saharan Africa. Let’s face it: the average voter simply doesn’t have the means to confirm whether or not these very specific, or remote, appeals are true.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of PRIVACY. Just how comfortable are YOU with someone watching practically every move you make on the sites you visit most? Did you give them permission? Did you know that you may already have? Try reading the ‘privacy statement’ or ‘terms of service’ next time you join a website’s membership. ‘Nough said.

There may, however, be a silver-lining to all of this.

With the ability to engage voters per individual need/interest, one can’t help but feel that the Voter Network’s approach holds the potential to bring back those citizens who have tuned out of politics in recent years, especially when we factor in the supposed reach of their network. It seems inevitable that Johnny Novote might just want to “click and find out more” about a candidate that has made multiple direct appeals on those issues he finds important. Even if the investment of Johnny’s time and effort doesn’t ultimately lead to his voting, at least Johnny has informed himself of the candidate(s) and issues at hand. An informed citizenry, despite being subject to propaganda, is better than an ignorant citizenry any day. In that sense, the Voter Network could be good for democracy.

Whatever the effects of this new online venture turn out to be, two things are certain:
1) We need to counter the dangers of individualization/compartmentalization with measures of collective action and information. If they are to keep us compartmentalized, we must work to share information; we must see if candidates’ overall campaign messages are congruent.
And 2) I don’t know about you, but this young man is going to be cleaning his browser’s cookies every chance he gets!


AdiĆ³s to the Aesthetics of Politicos: The Changing Face of Latin American Politics August 22, 2007

Posted by judecalvillo in brazil, economics, economy, latin america, mexico, politics.
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First, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog. I very much appreciate your support and feedback. That said, a number of you have brought up concerns about mass readability and suggested that I be more casual/colloquial with my writing. You wanna’ know what I say to that?!

You’re right šŸ™‚

Blogs are supposed to be about editorial, or, at least, they usually are. They are about reporting, opinion, and preferably presenting professional analysis; essentially, blogging is just a new, more interactive form of journalism. With that in mind, from now on, my posts will only be as “bookish” as is necessary to make my point(s).

So back to the point at hand…

Just the other day, I came across a -mostly- heartwarming article in The Economist that spoke of a growing middle-class in Latin America (click for article). With a spotlight on the cases of Mexico and Brazil, the article details how a more true middle-class (vs. the fortunate few that we in the U.S. would probably consider upper middle-class) is burgeoning throughout Latin America thanks to trade liberalization, freer, more sophisticated credit offerings, and tempered pricing. The Economist‘s numbers and charts mimic the humble climb of millions; Latin American workers are now upward -not necessarily northward– bound. This all makes for a chicken-soup to the Latin American soul with a hearty base of macroeconomic prudence and the spice of global engagement, but, just as I was beginning to savor sips of this stew, I choke on a bit of bitterness.

According to The Economist, political scientist Jorge CastaƱeda says that the new middle-class is “…more Mexican-looking than its predecessor.” What’s that supposed to mean? Let me clean my palette…

It’s obvious that Sr. CastaƱeda is, despite all of his years as an “intellectual,” not impervious to stereotyping or going simple. To make matters worse, he is a Latin American political scientist, which means he has most likely been exposed to the myriad “looks” of the region’s various nationalities. Today’s Mexicans, just like Americans, or any other nationality with a history of immigration -or conquest- and robust tourism, come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. There is no particular “look” that can be claimed truly Mexican. Any such claim would therefore be based on a stereotype, or simplification, founded upon segregating/stratifying grounds from other groups, be they conscious or not.

What Mr. CastaƱeda must mean to say, besides telling of a certain level of ignorance, malice, or membership, is that the newest entrants to the Mexican middle-class have a more indigenous look to them. What that means for us, as observers of political communication, and to the political elite of Mexico, or any other rising Latin American economy for that matter, is that politics and its persuasive mechanisms must now factor in the changing aesthetic composition (“looks”) of the largest group of more likely voters (i.e. the middle-class). This means that messages aimed at the old middle-class of Mexico/Latin America could miss their mark, for the artificial aristocrats of yesteryear, products of post-colonial and/or polarized economies, usually European in descent and design, will no longer monopolize the ballot boxes. Therefore, they should no longer monopolize the podiums either. The new middle-class will require engagement, through propaganda respectful of their aesthetic, and demand political opportunities reflective of their mass (i.e. more public offices).

In short, a changing of the guard is in order. Political persuasion, in both the tactical and symbolic sense, as well as some of the current Euro-looking political elite, must quickly say adiĆ³s to the aesthetic remnants of conquests past and buenos dĆ­as to groups that traditionally have had little representation.

Public Diplomacy via Private Sector? August 18, 2007

Posted by judecalvillo in Uncategorized.
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In this, my inaugural posting, I’d like to highlight a recent article in Fast Company that featured two of the world’s top marketing/image-control experts, Brad Nierenberg and James Murphy, discussing the matter of Brand America, or the image of America to the rest of the world. In it, they both concede that the American “brand” has been somewhat tarnished in recent years. That is, of course, old news. What is more interesting though is that at least one of them believes that measures of public diplomacy (in this case, winning the hearts and minds of people outside the U.S.) aren’t just for government agencies anymore. Businesses and their communicators should also act as ambassadors of “the American way,” which, as Mr. Neirenberg suggests, can be embodied in each individual’s story. By personalizing the American experience, at points of international engagement such as business transactions, we simultaneously help to disintegrate and supplement whatever monolithic interpretation of our values the audience might have assumed.

As was alluded to in the article, now more than ever, public diplomacy should be on the mind of any actor capable of showing others just how great America still is (not perfect, but still great in so many ways), and our businesspeople seem to be wonderful candidates for this special duty. In a world where international trade and open economies are beginning to level the playing field, and where interdependence prevents all-out war between trading countries, we are left with diplomacy, and who better to reach the people of other countries (not just the political elite) than the very actors that the international trade regime grants the most access to?: businessmen and -women, each with a story to tell…and Brand America to sell.

To read the article, please visit: http://www.fastcompany.com/articles/2007/08/open-debate.html
For those of you viewing this post via facebook, or another RSS syndication, and would like to view my new blog, Power and Persuasion, check it out here: http://judecalvillo.blogspot.com – hope ya’ likes, and tell you friends!

What about you? What are YOUR thoughts? Can you think of other means, or potential agents, of public diplomacy outside of the political system? Do you think that the ‘tarnish’ on our image is temporary and can be cleaned up after we, say, change administrations? If not by changing administrations, what political change do you think would rejuvenate our image? Do you think that there are elements besides our foreign policy that have affected our image?