Why can’t we be smarter at advertising?

Tesco is a big supermarket in the UK. They know almost everything about me, because I use a loyalty card which is connected into their customer systems. They know what brand of beer I buy, whether I like white or brown bread, and what day I am most likely to go shopping.

Tesco’s babyclub is an additional scheme, offering money off baby things. When I signed up, in October last year, they asked me my Clubcard number and my baby’s birth date.

You would think, therefore, that the vouchers from babyclub would be relevant to me (since it’s tied into the Clubcard); and relevant to the age of our baby, since that was one question they asked.

Yet, this morning, two of the vouchers that came through are meant for a baby nearly a year younger than ours. There was one voucher for money off “on our first online grocery shop”, yet even a cursory look at my customer record would have shown that I’ve made quite a few online grocery shops over the last year.

With all the data that Tesco have, why can’t they do a better job?

It isn’t just Tesco. Boots, a UK chemist, similarly has a loyalty card scheme. I used to only buy razor blades and men’s deodorant from there; yet they regularly sent me special offers for lipstick and makeup. Not too useful: and entirely unrelated to the purchases I’d been making.

With all the data that Boots have, why can’t they do a better job?

Online, Google knows more about me than any other company. They have my (UK) credit card on file; they know every single websearch I do; they know where I go and when I go there; they know what devices I own, what e-mail I get, and plenty more pieces of information.

Yet, through Google’s own AdSense ads, I’m promoted “the new Nexus 7” — while surfing using my new Nexus 7. I’m offered offers priced in US dollars and only available in the US, while being in the UK. Google Play highlights music tracks that I might wish to buy, in spite of the fact that I own those tracks and have uploaded them to the Google Play service myself.

With all the data that Google have, why can’t they do a better job?

Watching television on YouView, why would Channel 4 think it clever to serve me advertising in their on-demand internet service to try and sell me, er, YouView?

And why would Twitter serve me an advert in German, knowing that I don’t follow anyone who regularly posts in German, have never tweeted in that language, and rarely visit Germany?

I purposefully don’t opt-out of tracking or personalisation: because I believe that it delivers better, more relevant advertising: and that advertising can be great content, rather than an unwelcome and irrelevant interruption.

So, why isn’t it working out that way? And what do we need to do to fix it?