Loyal Subjects?: Consumer surveillance in the personal information economy
Pridmore, Jason Hart
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This research examines loyalty marketing as an empirical case study of consumer surveillance. Focusing on the Canadian context, the research investigates the relationship between the personal information economy and loyalty marketing through several interrelated perspectives. These are marketing and business literature, theoretical frameworks of surveillance, the branding of consumers and corporations, consumer ambivalence towards surveillance and privacy issues, and the mutual shaping of consumers and these programs. These interrelated yet distinctive perspectives provide different means to understand loyalty programs as information portals in the increasingly monitored, measured and marketed lives of consumers. They are a means of surveillance through which corporations systematically collect consumption data in order to influence, manage, entitle, or control consumers (Lyon 2001). The research is based on interviews with loyalty program executives, international survey results, and focus groups to both describe the relationship between corporate information processing and consumers as well as the current and potential social effects and issues embedded in this relationship. Loyalty programs are seen as an important means for conceptualizing contemporary marketing practices, the use of personal information, and personal identity in an information oriented society. They are a complex manifestation of a ‘knowing capitalism’ (Thrift 2005) that has implications far beyond the accumulation of points and the ‘reward yourself’ appeal of participation by contributing to a cultural consumption circuit that perpetuates and reinforces already existing socio-economic differences.