The Jammer Coat and Preserving Consumer Trust

Austrian architecture firm Coop-Himmelblau has designed a Snuggie-like piece of clothing that jams the wearer’s phone, effectively rendering him invisible. The Jammer Coat shields the phone from wireless signals, so the device becomes undetectable to things like search engines or tracking software, and there’s no way for anyone to pull credit card information.

When I came across this story on Mashable, it seemed very sci-fi — something ripped from the pages of a William Gibson novel, or an unused costume prop from Minority Report. But considering that science fiction has segued into everyday hard truth, and that the William Gibsons of 20 years ago are now seen as pretty fair futurists who foresaw everything from Google Glass to autonomous automobiles, I think it’s worth considering why anyone would think up a product like this.

The fact is, after consumers found out the NSA was prying into digital lockboxes on a massive scale, and when it seems there are weekly news stories about miscreants swiping massive amounts of customer data at Target or using fake WiFi transponders to steal people’s logins at the corner coffee shop, when there’s even a highly-popular console game that glamorizes the adventures of a hacker, then people’s sensitivity to sharing their data is heightened — and that can go a step further, into their wanting to actively hide that very data. Or as Mashable observes,

Whether or not anyone ever buys the Jammer Coat, it’s certainly another symptom of the ongoing privacy-vs-surveillance debate, exemplified by people who want to be “forgotten” by Google and similar web trackers, and the increasing presence of drones and other surveillance technology.

For a marketer who hopes to target, re-target, engage and evangelize those consumers on the basis of that data, there’s a potential problem if this grows into a movement on any serious scale.

What’s the answer? Nothing so draconian as forcing citizens to share their personal data with the government or corporations, you’d hope.  Though anyone who scans the news knows that Orwellian outcome isn’t as far-fetched as we’d like to think.

For brands, organizations and agencies like TRG and our clients, the solution has always been there: make sure there’s a real value exchange going on with your audience.

Want their opt-in, their personal data? Be nice about it, first of all. Then make sure the promise is worth their participation, their investment; think of their data as having real monetary value, because it does, and give them incentives and reasons to share with you, to trust you, to feel they’ve made a good choice.

Treating user data with a higher level of responsibility, and taking pains to recognize the value of what they’re sharing with us in this paranoid age, pays off in the long run, for all concerned. Because consumer trust is the one inestimable asset we can’t ever afford to lose as marketers.

If you don’t think that kind of bond should be a big concern, ask Gregg Steinhafel. He had a pretty good job at Target until recently.

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