Must-read cover piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, detailing the means and methods marketers exercise to extract consumer information that nails you to the selling post:

How Companies Learn Your Secrets


Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”

Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. His parents were teachers in North Dakota, and while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing computer programs. “The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.”

As the marketers explained to Pole — and as Pole later explained to me, back when we were still speaking and before Target told him to stop — new parents are a retailer’s holy grail . . .


The Times piece proceeds to detail how marketers capture that grail – and a whole lot of other ones.


It’s called “predictive analytics,” and you should know as much about it as you can. The Times piece is a good start.


Sneak ADtack! Bonus Sidebar (pat. pending):


Interesting post from Nick O’Neill’s blog:


How Forbes Stole A New York Times Article And Got All The Traffic


Seems swooped in and swiped the story from the Times, posting its basic elements on the Forbes website with better Search Engine Optimization:


The original title was “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”. Kashmir Hill, a writer at Forbes, realized this and quickly developed a condensed version of the article with a far more powerful title: “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did“. It cut out the crap and got to the real shocker of the story. As of the writing of this story, the New York Times article has 60 likes and shares on Facebook versus 12,902 which the Forbes article has. The Forbes article also has a mind boggling 680,000 page views, a number that can literally make a writer’s career.


But not necessarily his good reputation.

John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
John R. Carroll has 303 post(s) on Sneak Adtack