Netflix is catching hate from a few users who believe their private lives are being mocked publicly. This may sound familiar, in that brands like @Wendys and @KFC regularly joke with customers, but the difference here is that @netflix used private information that its customers didn’t disclose or allow to be disclosed.
It’s bringing up the debate about when, or even whether, companies should reveal private, anonymized customer data in marketing and how. (A few customers were mainly upset because they believed their personal tastes were being insulted.)
“You’re not my mom,” is a tweet from @AmandaJuneBell in response to @netflix’s outing of 53 users who’d watched a romantic holiday movie. Granted, her reaction could itself have been a joke, but other customers were more clear about their displeasure with this @netflix tweet.
To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?
— Netflix "Mariah Carey's Merriest Christmas" US (@netflix) December 11, 2017
The difference with Wendy’s and KFC customers is that they appear to be in on the joke voluntarily. They’re tweeting with the brands. (At the beginning of its reign of snark, @Wendys did mock some customers harshly enough to result in at least one deleting his account. But the brand seems to have moved away from utter humiliation efforts.)
Spotify, which is also known for using customer data in its marketing efforts, does ask users if they’d like to participate in the ads, says Sapna Maheshwari on Dec. 17 in The New York Times. Her piece does explore the privacy agreement in, “Netflix and Spotify Ask: Can Data Mining Make for Cute Ads?”
Netflix users tend to highly praise the recommended watch lists they get privately from the company, based on their user behaviors. But even though the company anonymized the behavioral data used for the tweet, these users weren’t happy:
I just want to ask in what marketing class they teach you to shame your most reliable customers? Nice try, but you’re not @Wendys. Might ask her for some pointers though.
— Erik Wecks (@erikwecks) December 12, 2017
I guess to clarify, what I find creepy is not that they collect this data, but that the threshold for releasing it is arbitrary. In this case, if the number is accurate, they released user data because they found it funny. That's offputting to me.
— 1001 Chicago Afternoons (@1001chicago) December 12, 2017
It’s no secret that companies, especially those born in the digital age, are amassing deep and detailed troves of information on the habits and preferences of their consumers. For streaming services, that data fuels the recommendations. But companies are also taking a bit of a risk when they turn those findings into marketing, whether through conversational social media posts or advertisements from Spotify with lines like “Take a page from the 3,445 people who streamed the ‘Boozy Brunch’ playlist on a Wednesday this year.”
A message that one person might see as clever and unexpected can just as easily be seen by another as an ominous reminder that Big Data is often lurking just around the corner.
She further quoted a Netflix spokesman who said users may have been upset because “it was brought down to an individual level as opposed to a broader trend level.”
But he pointed out that Netflix does not use customer data to sell ads on its platform, as Google and Facebook do, or sell it to other entities.
Meanwhile on Twitter, at least one upset Netflix user didn't feel so reassured by another brand:
— blake (@blaketopia) December 11, 2017
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
Related story: KFC’s Viral, Over-the-Top Fan Appreciation Wins