Jeetender Singh is the current Maharaja of Alwar in India.
He tells a story about his grandfather visiting London in the 1920s.
He decided to dress in informal English clothes and go for a walk.
As he walked, he passed the Rolls Royce showroom.
He popped inside and began inspecting the cars.
The salesman spotted this small foreign chap sitting in a Rolls Royce and asked him what he thought he was doing.
The Maharajah said he was thinking of buying one.
The salesman laughed and told him to get out of the showroom.
They didn’t want vulgar little foreign fellows crawling all over their fine cars.
Totally humiliated, the Maharajah left.
He went back to his hotel room and told his staff to buy every Rolls Royce in the showroom.
The Maharajah bought them all and had them shipped back to India.
Once they got there, he had them sent to the sanitation dept.
They were used for collection and transportation of waste.
Driving all over Alwar full of rubbish, for everyone to see.
The Maharajah had decided that henceforth Rolls Royces would be used as garbage trucks.
When news got back to Rolls Royce they were devastated.
They sent a telegram asking why the Maharajah was doing this.
He explained what had happened in London.
He said if they thought their cars were too good for vulgar little foreign fellows, he’d show everyone exactly what Rolls Royce cars were good for.
The Chairman of Rolls Royce wrote to him apologising profusely.
He offered to send six free replacement Rolls Royces.
The Maharaja took several weeks to think it over.
Eventually he replied that he appreciated the offer, and would stop using Rolls Royces as garbage trucks.
But his family would never buy another Rolls Royce.
Rolls Royce got off lightly.
But why were they so worried about one customer?
After all he only bought a few cars.
The real issue wasn’t that particular buyer.
They real issue was everyone else who was listening in.
Rolls Royce were more worried what would happen worldwide if word got out that their cars were used as garbage trucks.
How aspirational would Rolls Royce be then?
How many heads of state and multi-millionaires would want to be seen riding in a garbage truck?
The issue wasn’t the individual customer, the issue was who else was listening in.
And that’s the debate about traditional broadcast advertising versus big data and highly targeted advertising.
Targeting an advertisement solely towards an individual isn’t advertising.
It’s what used to be called direct mail: leaflets in the letterbox.
It has nothing to do with brand building.
Brand building is about reputation, it’s about image, it’s about what everyone else thinks about you.
Brand building sells an awful lot more product than direct mail.
And it doesn’t sell by targeting each individual consumer.
It sells by targeting everyone else.
Everyone who the consumer knows is also listening in.