“John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now.”

Personally addressed holographic advertising in public spaces, viewable only by the recipient – such is the future of advertising according to last year’s science fiction blockbuster, Minority Report. Minority Report explores the issues of predestination and free will, excesses of power in law enforcement and government, identity theft, and strongly hints at the saturation of our daily life by the forces of marketing. The Internet and the underlying power of modern computing has enabled marketers to take a sizeable leap towards reaching this more personal and targeted advertising environment. Unfortunately, most Internet advertising remains mired in the “shotgun” approach, a marketing method most consumers find annoying and wasteful, at best.

On the Internet, this approach still manifests itself through banner ads, pop-under ads and sundry annoyances most Internet users now choose to ignore, click-away or remove through a variety of programs. As the power of consumers to decide what they wish to be exposed to increases, exemplified by consumer electronics devices manufactured by companies like TiVo and ReplayTV, marketers will have to work harder and harder to find ways past consumer’s digital gatekeepers.

Perhaps a stronger focus on personalized content is needed to engage this new generation of empowered consumers. In order to achieve this, marketers will need to collect accurate information about consumers, an unlikely scenario if consumers are unable to trust that their personal information will be protected. Most individuals do not accurately enter background information on websites, as they see few, if any, rewards for their behaviour. In fact, quite the opposite is true, as consumers who divulge their personal information will be subjected to more spam e-mail and junk mail. Their reward is generally nothing more than whatever immediate need prompted them to release their information, such as downloading a trial piece of software or voting in an online poll.

Some marketers have travelled back to the future, fusing traditional word-of-mouth method to e-mail and the web to create the aptly named “viral marketing”. The engrained flaw is that a viral campaign can prey on consumer’s friends, tempting them to reveal the consumer’s personal information. For example, websites such as CrushLink will ask a user to guess which friend entered their e-mail address. Incorrect e-mail addresses will then enter the service’s database, e-mailing the recipient with the same ploy.

Ultimately, the full potential of the Internet and computing cannot be realized in this manner, or by any other system where marketers do not have access to quality information (when was the last time you accurately filled out a form with your interests on the Web?). Only the combination of industry standards, government legislation and enforcement of statutes aimed at protecting consumer privacy and setting the rules for the transmittal of that information will convince consumers to provide marketers with the quantity and quality of information needed to truly offer targeted marketing.

Unfortunately, most companies are fighting against consumers, often betting that their power to direct government and the courts can overcome the new power balance between consumers and producers. Something as basic as setting the rules of the game so that consumers make an affirmative choice to “opt-in” to a newsletter causes a stampede of lawyers and lobbyist through government’s door.

A recent New York Times article points to marketers that are taking advantage of the pull strategies available to them, such as Luxury for Living by Lexus. What is striking is that, while lauding more effective pull strategies, marketers are still qualifying banners ads and push strategies as “great”, when the net effect is alienating the very audience they seek to capture. The inability to make the rhetorical leap and push industry towards a consumer-friendly regulatory framework might doom us all to living with holographic monkeys screeching at us to “click here” next time we ride the subway.