Shopping Made Psychic: No-Content Marketing Marches on

A while back, I predicted the coming of no-content marketing: what comes next after the sheer volume of content drives its value below zero. That's the point at which we start paying to avoid content, no matter how compelling, shocking, funny, or celebrity- or puppy-laden.

That point is here. The latest sign: In a piece in the New York Times, Cass R. Sunstein describes a recent study he conducted in which he asked people if they'd be willing to, in effect, let robots shop for them:

...companies can predict people's purchases, often with uncanny accuracy. In the near future, they might even use those predictions to enroll you in special programs in which you receive goods and services, and are asked to pay for them, before you have actually chosen them. Call it predictive shopping.

Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and former Obama White House official, asked about 500 people what they thought of the idea of predictive shopping. Among his findings:

I asked, would you approve of a system in which the home monitor automatically, and without your explicit consent, bought goods for you and billed your credit card?... nearly one-third would approve.

But in an informal survey of university students, he found this:

...for household staples, there was a large difference: 69 percent approved of automatic purchases by the home monitor, even without consent.

So in other words, the cohort coming up may be much more open to letting software robots do their shopping for them. They would thus win back time otherwise spent consuming marketing content and wandering the mazes of store displays, whether IRL or on the web.

Does this mean marketing itself will go away? Unlikely, but it will change.

Content marketing emerged from traditional marketing, after all the promotion finally became overwhelming. The idea is that instead of pushing your message on people, you pull them to you with content that's entertaining or useful.

But what happens when there's too much content?


By using web stores like Amazon, we already rely on software to make recommendations for us, much like a personal shopper would. The next step is simply for those recommendation engines to be granted permission to buy.

At that point, consumer goods as a whole will experience the transition we've already seen in the music niche. Instead of shopping for songs or albums, more and more of us let iTunes, Pandora or Spotify just stream it. Next: we'll "stream" our groceries, shirts, socks and toothpaste.