Marketing and behavioural analytics

Marketing and behavioural analytics

You probably already know that companies collect information about you both by collating information about your shopping habits and by augmenting that with information other companies have collected about you. All of this is put together and the resulting analytics is used to shape/personalise advertising for you.

But did you know that Target can tell if you are pregnant even when you haven’t told anyone? Spooky stuff. They can detect that your pattern of shopping is gradually or abruptly changing and channel a huge amount of advertising to you before all the other shops can get you after your child is born. You might only be planning your next ultrasound but Target is already pushing products you’ll need down the line. This is called ‘guest marketing analytics’ and is helping employ a huge number of mathematicians who surely dreamed of making more of their talents once upon a time.

This New York Times article, How companies learn your secrets, goes a fair bit further still and delves into cognitive and behaviour sciences. Again, you’d think psychologists are out there healing people or preventing psychopaths from committing more crimes. Wrong. Psychologists are out there tweaking rats’ brains in order to sell you an extra toilet brush.

Habits are complex yet simple phenomena. They take ages to cement and take in loads of information in a three-step process: first there’s a cue and trigger that automatically activate pathways in your brain, then there’s the physical, mental or emotional routine, and finally a reward that will help your brain decide if a habit is worth bumping up in its importance and usefulness. Over time the cue-routine-reward loop becomes more automatic via neuro-chemical processes to form a bond strong enough to unleash a craving. Rewarding cues can be short and subtle enough as to avoid our attention altogether, but potent enough to help cement powerful habits that companies exploit to sell us more stuff (that we probably don’t need).

The articles goes on to explain how habit loops are cleverly exploited by marketers: air fresheners that seem to have no purpose except to mark a reward point in a habit loop, companies that track habits and sell you swimsuits in spring, sunscreen in summer and dieting products in winter, tracking major life events when habits have a tendency to become malleable so companies can swoop down on your changing habits. The biggest of this is when you are expecting a child. And the best time to catch you before anyone else does is when the pregnancy is still young. Apparently Target assigns shoppers a ‘pregnancy score’. ‘Cue-routine reward calculators’ looks at patterns of products purchased and identify appropriate habit-eliciting incentives. Sadly companies even figured out that pregnant women hate the idea of companies working out their reproductive status, so they now send out lots of coupons including ones for non-pregnancy related items in order to fool the women into thinking they aren’t targeted. Clever and probably unethical.

Fortunately all this psychological research can also help us identify cues for overeating or other undesirable behaviour that we might want to change and so can be used for positive personal ends. However the fact remains that most of this research is done by and for companies that really just want to sell you more nappies and fragrance-free lotion. At this point I get sad… our best psychological, statistical and mathematical minds managed to produce work that serves corporate interests and help make us into consumerist animals who reach for products out of sheer manipulated habit. But that’s our world unfortunately.

Poly people

Poly people

Modern Poly just started a Facebook album where poly people from around the world can upload their photos and describe what poly means for them. I love that the answers and the looks are so varied, poly people have an incredible diversity that for me, is one of the strength of poly living.

I can’t imagine ever again NOT being open to the possibility of developing new human connections when so much is possible and so much of it is yet to be realised. I’ve only got one life. Poly for me is making MORE of that one life I have and helping others make the most of theirs in combinations that ideally create the happiest outcome for all: spinning wonderful scenarios with other complex and beautiful human monkeys. Poly is also commitment to those I have in my life, having a chosen family beyond the conventional, creating a life for myself and others with our own values.

And now some words from these folks:

“Polyamory is falling in love with whomever we choose & still walk side by side. No lies, no hiding!”

“Polyamory to me means loving many, with all the forms of Love – phileo, eros, and agape. It’s also the only way to truly, honestly, and openly love unconditionally, exactly the way humans are meant to love each other.”

“Polyamory is warm, happy nights spent nestled between people who love you and are capable of loving one another through you, be it platonic or romantic between them. It is mutual understanding and acceptance. Polyamory is the promise of a large support group and a big family. Polyamory is acceptance, warmth, and love, be it between a few people or within a large web of entanglements. It can erase loneliness, build trust, and ultimately bring about widespread happiness where there might otherwise be discontentment.”

“To me, poly means not hiding, repressing, or feeling guilty about the way I feel; it’s about celebrating that I have so much love to give, instead of feeling bad about it. It’s accepting myself. And it’s embracing all the full experiences life has to offer & giving myself the freedom to do what i love most: bring joy to beautiful people.”

Treatment for colds

Treatment for colds

A cure for the common cold?

According to the Asthma Foundation of Australia, Melbourne researchers had success with a new anti-viral, vepandavir. It’s meant to shorten the common cold and reduce nasty symptoms, at least in asthmatics. As an asthmatic this restriction is obviously acceptable for me 😛 Asthmatics suffer heaps more from colds and those that have auto-immune problems (ie. me) suffer even more, so this could be a breakthrough, at least for some.

So perhaps not a gigantic breakthrough for humankind, but a small step forward for asthmatics. Can’t wait (few years?) until it becomes available. Bring it on.

Some great historical photos…

Some great historical photos...

31+ Great Iconic Photos from History

Many betray an Anglo-American bias or a preoccupation with fame, but not all… there are some great, lesser-known war shots (Phillippines, WWII), famous moments in history (1906 San Fran earthquake), the beginnings of new technology (flight, Google, first photograph and first computer) and surprisingly a baby photo of Hitler.

The ones that got me the most were less obviously famous though: the frozen over Niagara Falls which is perhaps never going to be repeated with global warming and climate change and most strikingly the photo of black medical staff in emergency treating a patient from the Ku-Klux-Klan.


The evolutionary origins of morality

The evolutionary origins of morality

Primatologist Franks de Waal shares his knowledge of how moral behaviours have first started in primates.

The original TED talk

The pillars of morality, for de Waal, are reciprocity, which is based on the principle and need for fairness, and empathy, based on our capacity and need for compassion. Primate studies have shown that empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity, the building blocks of caring about each other’s well-being, can be found in the animal kingdom.

Experiments have shown that chimps will cooperate in tasks where it’s their peers who are bound to benefit and they do so as there’s an underlying principle of reciprocity. Next time the cooperating party requires help himself he can draw on others. Even elephants exhibit cooperative behaviour!

Empathy is perhaps even more interesting. It’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. The oldest roots of empathy are in synchronization, such as yawning contagion. Chimps exhibit consolation and also social sharing when they don’t directly stand to benefit. Capuchins have also been shown to exhibit fairness by rejecting ‘unequal pay’ in experiments. Dogs and birds have also done so.

Anthropologists, economists, sociologists and many others may be tempted to draw far-reaching conclusions (feel free to mention some of those in your comments below if you like!) but the most definite point here is that we aren’t the first species to have a sense of morality and show empaty and caring. It may be a more complex question going into ‘evolved morality’ or social morality, why some humans have lost this ability or have subordained it to other, ‘higher’, more selfish aims?