Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet, Search and Advertising and Media and Content

Article Snapshot


Joseph Turow


MIT Press, 2006


The author warns against the implications of niche marketing gone awry for consumers in America.

Policy Relevance

Customer-centric marketing has a bad side that rears its head as computer technologies increasingly identify consumers as either good or bad for a business. The ever-increasing practice relies on placing consumers into niches; that in turn, foster feelings of envy and paranoia among consumers.

Main Points

  • Media and marketing practitioners know that their business will increasingly come to be defined by the data-driven relationships they have with consumers and how well they manage those relationships.
  • The consumer market, in many ways, is a social hub of belonging that determines where consumers fit in with everyone else and how they feel about “their place.” “Keeping up with the Joneses” is a real concern for many American consumers.
  • As more information is collected about consumers, and tailored to them, companies wield greater power and can cause consumers to worry about “keeping up with the Joneses.”
  • The amount of information that technology now allows companies to gather about consumers is not widely known. These technologies are so new that most people do not know how to talk about them yet.
  • Despite little actual awareness and dialogue about databases of consumer information; consumers do have a sense of unease and wariness about the growing amounts of information collected by advertisers.
  • The advertising landscape has gone through numerous changes throughout its history, and this new iteration in some ways harkens back to old ways of advertising.
  • Consumers are increasingly at the mercy of advertiser’s power of information if they do not want to be left behind or feel as though they are not getting the best deals and service.
  • There is some growing concern but advertisers and companies have the power to keep these worries mostly hidden and under control. However, this is an increasingly large problem that has serious implications that could divide the fabric of society.

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