Big Data is a big deal for businesses, given the potential for marketing departments to discover our innermost thoughts and buying behaviors, and thereby tailor pitches to us. At least, that's the dream. For now, at least based on the data marketing firms actually have on most of us, the dream is far from being realized.

The Sad Reality Of Big Data Marketing

We've all read about how marketers are now able to make highly tailored product pitches to us based on our web searches, online purchases and more. Our every click, registered and used against us. Our privacy, destroyed forever!

And yet the reality is kind of depressing. For all our talk about Big Data knowing so much, they marketers may actually know very, very little. 

To help consumers understand the data being collected about them, Acxiom just launched a new website called AboutTheData.com. The site allows you to enter some personal information (name, birthdate, etc.) and discover what marketers think about you. Granted, the site is likely also a way for Axciom to build up its reservoir of data, but it's kind of fun to see what the marketing data says about us.

For example, according to AboutTheData.com, I'm a 40-year old, truck-driving Arab that votes Democrat, has a newborn and is into fashion.

Well, one of those is true.

My friend and Businessweek reporter, Ashlee Vance, notes that according to the site, "I'm a single Italian woman with one child. Time to get back to work, algorithms." Now whatever you may think of his first name, Ashlee is very much a man. And I think the closest he gets to being Italian is ordering pizza... at Dominos.

No wonder that my friend and PR executive Lonn Johnston writes, "I'm feeling much safer if this is how the big data rubber hits the patch of road that runs through my life."

Not That It's All Bad

Of course, much of the information on the AboutTheData.com site is pretty accurate. I do donate to charitable causes (How did they get my tithing receipts?). I have lived in my 1930s era home for 10 years. I do make a lot of online purchases and probably do roughly average the dollars spent that Acxiom believes I do. 

What's weird is that despite this data, the ads I still see on the web (mostly obliterated by studious use of AdBlock) are generally irrelevant to my interests. I want to buy a used Subaru Outback as my daughter is now crowding me out of our family driving pool, and have registered that interest by spending far too much time on AutoBuyer, Edmunds, KSL and Craigslist looking at these cars. But I've yet to see a single ad tailored to this obvious buying intent.

Instead I see the same stupid ads you see: how to learn a new language, weight loss miracle cures, etc.

Which is why I can't credit Acxiom's warning that opting out of its marketing data repository will somehow hurt me:

Opting out of Acxiom's online and/or offline marketing data will not prevent you from receiving marketing materials. Instead of receiving ads that are relevant to your interests, you will see more generic ads with no information to tailor content. For example, instead of getting a great offer on a hotel package in your favorite vacation spot, you might see an ad for the latest, greatest weight loss solution.

I've never had a single ad giving me a deal on a Grand Targhee vacation. Or something urging me to get those new Rossignol S7s that I've wanted and demonstrated interest in by madly clicking on the new season's models.

Or, really, anything that I actually want. 

Maybe Acxiom and the other online marketing companies don't send me such offers because they think I'm Arab. And drive a truck. And vote Democrat. But given all that they do know about me, I'd kind of hope to get an ad that actually mattered to me.

At least once.