Why Every Company Is an Ad Company Now

This week, Marriott turned some heads when it announced it was partnering up with Yahoo in an attempt to launch a new media venture.

The “Marriott Media Network,” as the company described it, will be an “omnichannel cross-platform advertising solution for brand advertisers,” set to “[enable] curated content experiences and offerings to guests throughout their travel journey.” In other words, it’s going to let advertisers target Marriott hotel guests wherever those hotel guests can be found — in their in-room television sets, in their email inboxes, and directly in the Marriott Bonvoy app.

Right now, according to Marriott’s press release, only travellers in the U.S. and Canada are going to be pummelled with this programming, but the hospitality chain ultimately hopes to expand to target the international crowd, too — “more than 164 million members” in the Bonvoy program altogether, plus all the non-Bonvoy members currently cruising around Marriott’s locations, the company said.

On one hand, it’s kind of a bummer knowing that yet another company will be hitting us with ads — and collecting data to target those ads — from the moment we first buy a ticket through its site to the moment we leave our hotel room. It’s also a bleak reminder that in 2022, everything’s an ad network, from hotels to pharmacies to dollar stores.

So even though Marriott isn’t a media company, we’re still getting a Marriott branded hotel media network. This is also why Best Buy rolled out a similar ad offering earlier this year, and why Dollar Tree did the same last year, and why CVS did the same the year before that. Walmart reported $US2 ($3) billion in ad revenue earlier this year. It’s not because Best Buy, or Dollar Tree, or CVS, or Walmart are media companies per se, but as Eric Seufert, a media strategist who runs the Mobile Dev Memo trade blog, put it, “if you want to reach a niche audience, you’re better served by operating on an ad network dedicated to that niche.”

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Offline shops like Marriott are suddenly pivoting to the ads business offline is because of the privacy restrictions hitting their online counterparts, as others have astutely pointed out. Legislation like GDPR in the EU and CCPA here in the US — not to mention privacy-focused product updates like the ones Apple rolled out not long ago — have severely hampered advertisers’ ability to reach customers with ads for products they don’t need.

“Facebook’s loss is everyone’s gain, and much of its market share is up for grabs,” said Seufert. “Advertising is an incredibly attractive business,” he went on, because it has high margins, and it’s not hard to roll out an ad platform to target your particular brand of customer.

Around the time that legislation went into effect, retailers with niche audiences — like, say, Marriott hotels, which primarily serves well-to-do travellers — realised that they had data that platforms like Facebook no longer had access to. They knew when people were travelling and when people were buying tickets not because they were purchasing that data from a data broker but because their customers were freely divulging with every click on their sites.

In other words, now that Facebook and Google are having a harder time than ever before reaching gadget shoppers or bargain hunters, you have the stores frequented by those particular audiences seeing a new revenue stream. Instead of just selling those gadgets or cheap little knickknacks to their customers, these stores are now selling access to those customers to advertisers, too.

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There’s an adage among tech-privacy folks that when you don’t pay for something (like, say, a free app), you end up “being the product,” when that app ends up pawning your data off to some third-party middleman in an attempt to make a profit. But in 2022, the hotels we stay in, the pharmacies we shop in, and even the places we buy our groceries, like Target and Walmart, all have their own spin on data brokerage, too. It doesn’t matter how much money we spend in these locales; at the end of the day, you’re still going to be seen as a product worth monetising.