Digital duty of care non-existent for the bereaved

For decades the direct mail industry has understood that marketing to people that have passed away causes distress to those left behind. Finding a piece of mail on the doormat in the name of a deceased family member can serve as an incredibly painful reminder of a person’s loss. This is why companies like us, trade associations such as the DMA and marketing legislation, including GDPR, spearhead deceased suppression. However, this compassionate approach is something that our digital counterparts are failing to adopt as a recent news story demonstrates.

Gillian Brockwell is calling on tech companies to rethink how they target ads after she was inundated with baby-related promotions following her stillbirth. She believes if they were smart enough to deduce she had been pregnant in the first place, they should have realised that her baby had died. Following the heart-breaking and traumatic event she posted the news on social media as she felt it was easier to broadcast the news to her friends and acquaintances rather than having the pain of telling everyone individually. As a result she suggests that the technology companies should have picked up on this. When asking questions of the social media giants she wrote:

"Did you not see the three days of silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me? And then the announcement with keywords like 'heartbroken' and 'problem' and 'stillborn' and the 200 teardrop emoticons from my friends? Is that not something you could track?"

To add insult to injury when she actively tried to discourage the pregnancy-related promotions by clicking ‘I don’t want to see this ad’ button, the algorithm assumed that the reason for this was that she had given birth and therefore needed ads for nursing bras and car seats that grow with the baby etc.

We’ve all been at the end of a mistargeted digital ad, but most of us can shrug it off, but when it relates to something as painful as a bereavement then it can’t and shouldn’t be shrugged off. It is time that the online marketing industry looked for solutions to issues as upsetting as these.