There has been a recent uptick in specialized, or targeted advertising, usually on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. However, car company Mini has started to take targeted advertising to the real world, by changing electronic billboards whenever Mini drivers pass by to give them a shout out in a new viral ad campaign. While cool in theory, the method in which they are able to track Mini drivers so as to trigger these billboard changes is rather creepy, like these drivers are sort of being stalked. Mini's ad campaign displays the unfortunate implications of targeted advertising by showing how creepy it is when a company knows who you are and where you are.
The Mini billboard campaign in England, part of their broader "Not Normal" ad campaign, is pretty innocuous in theory. The purpose is to make Mini drivers stand out, as part of being "not normal" and thus somehow cooler and/or more awesome for driving a Mini Cooper (which it really does not, given how society is afraid of people who stick out). How they do this is by having spotters look for Mini Drivers further down the road from the billboard set, mark down the car, and make adjustments to the billboards. For the most part, the messages Mini has sent out are upbeat, often giving shoutouts and taking pictures of them driving their Minis. Some drivers were even given free bacon sandwiches, though that meant taking time out of their commute to do so, in exchange for being advertised in the "Not Normal" ad campaign.
Still, the notion of being seen driving in a Mini, while it may have an upbeat intent, could scare a driver and cause an accident. But furthermore, it might point to a person who would rather not have a spotlight on their face while they are driving, free bacon sandwiches aside. People are not the biggest fans of surprises, nor are they the most comfortable with being shown on a billboard during their morning commute.
This is not the first time Mini's owner, BMW, has pulled this, with a previous billboard campaign in America doing something similar back in 2007. However, in that case, the people that were targeted in the BMW electronic billboards did so with full consent and awareness of the situation, so it was perfectly reasonable.
Mini deserves some credit for being clever with electronic billboards, and using targeted advertising in a very specific way. However, this campaign opens up the chance of someone targeting another person for not buying a specific product or service, or mock them for other reasons in real-time. There is something completely uncomfortable about that.