How big is big data: Target figured a teen girl was pregnant before her father did


Don’t be frightened by the title of this post.

Everyday, we inherently drop bits of information about ourselves, whether we want to or not. Things we buy at supermarkets informs them of our consumption choices. Each time we pay by credit card, the financial industry knows how often we dine out, or go for fine dining. Every site we surf, our cookie dutifully records and watches. Wherever we go, our mobile phone submits that information in real time to the telcos. Every TV channel we watch informs the service provider of our lifestyle leanings.

OK, now you should be frightened.

So what, you think. These are all disparate silos of information. But put together, they can work to piece a very intricate profile of you. We’re mostly creatures of habits, and so our consumption patterns are just that. A pattern. Patterns can be deciphered, and insights drawn from it.

As of today, it is already possible, and entire industries are coming alive, with the sole purpose of bringing in all that disparate data, making sense of it, building profiles, with the ultimate aim of giving marketers a better view of who their consumers really are, what they’re like, and when they’re likely to buy from you.

Target on target


Target, for example, has figured out a way to work their data, and find out when a lady is likely to be pregnant, and start sending them coupons for baby items when they were only in their second trimester. In fact, they got so good at it, they sent a 16 year old girl their pregnancy coupons, and got her father all riled up.

Turned out she really was pregnant, and they probably ended up using the coupons anyway.

This could be a scary prospect, when you think about it. So today, Target disguises their coupons with other random stuff thrown in, so the unsuspecting mother-to-be will not feel like Target knows.

Break through the clutter

Throughout the course of a day, adding up online ads, billboards, bus ads, posters, TVCs, radio and outdoor ads, we’re inundated by between 3,000 to 20,000 marketing mesages per day. Yeap, try counting the next time. You’ll give up before lunch.

What ads need to do, is to add in that missing layer of data, that allows you to know, in real time, what this person needs, or is in the market for. You can then craft messages or visuals that appeal to them and provide them with the right message, or at least something they can consider.


I’m currently working with Lotame, a Data Management Platform with the ability to collect data from multiple different sources, organise and interpret those data, and give you detailed insights into who your customers are, what they like, and how you can tailor your messages to your different groups of customers.

I’m @vinyarb on twitter, if you’d like to connect and find out more.

You’re not going to be doing anyone any good showing me a banner on your latest, super fragrant, deep cleansing fabric softener.

My wife makes the decisions on that front.

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