For the price of just $29, everyone can harness the power of targeted messaging and use it to persuade a chosen target to quit smoking, commit to a relationship, stop eating meat—virtually anything. It’s called The Spinner.
By surreptitiously sending a cookie to someone via a link, that individual becomes part of a small target set of lookalikes that receive 10 pieces of content and 180 impressions intended to convince them of something.
Of course, what The Spinner is doing, as marketers know, isn’t a new tactic. The company, while incorporating some proprietary tech, is using existing targeting tools that have been developed by Facebook and Google.
Spinner’s CEO, “Elliot Shefler” just presents it in a way that the average consumer can understand and utilize without needing to know the in’s and out’s of programmatic distribution.
Shefler closely guards the details about his operation and was reluctant to provide his own background information and contact info to AList. According to him, The Spinner employs about 10 people for its consumer product and partners with a British agency for nameless larger brand clients.
The Spinner, which launched in April 2018, has sparked some interest among users looking to sow seeds of influence among their relationships.
“Every day we have many requests with many different messages and goals,” said Shefler in a call with AList.
He also vehemently believes in the power of using this targeting and social media to persuade.
“Definitely, there are some success stories,” said Shefler, citing an example of a client who wanted their son to not quit college by delivering content about college dropouts.
“If the message is tailored to the recipient and you repeat it frequently enough—very powerful.”
In a post-Cambridge Analytica environment, an increasing number of consumers are becoming more concerned about how targeting tools and consumer data could be leveraged outside of the scope of marketing purposes.
According to a study by Janrain in 2018, 57 percent of 1000 consumers surveyed cited the Cambridge Analytica scandal as the reason they shifted their opinion on concern around data privacy and security.
The conversation prior to this moment, however, has been concentrated on personal data and the responsibility of protecting and effectively managing the data of individual consumers. While GDPR has gone a long way to hold accountable companies to protect this data, should we also be worried about anonymized data and targeting if it can be used by anyone for any purpose?
Grouped into little factions based on our interests, our purchase histories, our political beliefs, our jobs, we’ve been assuaged by the promise of our user data not being personally identifiable by third-parties, and therefore not susceptible. (Never mind that this has already been proven untrue.)
As Shefler is quick to point out, a key difference in what he provides with his expertise isn’t about using his technology to reach the broadest swath of potential customers, but rather about honing in on those you already have a relationship with.
“The value is in retention, not in the acquisition,” he said.
He related a story about one insurance company he was commissioned work on, where he would target the insurance agents at the company to “brainwash and manipulate” them and change the perception of the company itself with the goal of retaining those agents.
“We planned a similar campaign with a big pharmaceutical company that was targeting doctors (not patients—doctors) with articles about the benefits of a certain medicine.”
Shefler himself does not have any social media accounts, in part it seems to guard himself against the very tools he is monetizing from and also partly because of the nature of his work. It is hard to tell if this is pragmatism or paranoia—if he has truly seen what lurks beneath the hood.
In an email following our call, he used the common adage of those in tech—“If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product”—as an answer to his philosophy on privacy and when pressed about whether he feels the same targeting tools he leverages for The Spinner could be vulnerable to possible misuse, his response was matter-of-fact:
“I would prefer using the word “effective” instead of ‘vulnerable.’ The answer is: highly effective.”