The Great Race Debate1 Jul 2012
We were having our bags searched. It was a little humiliating given the crowd, but a commonplace part of the procedure deemed necessary before entry these days.
We had supplied our passport numbers, home address, bank details and various other personal details such as race and age before we were allowed to purchase our tickets, but even then, the security checks were deemed necessary to ensure… well, I’m not sure what.
Because, this experience was not a high security situation. It was not a major international landmark expecting a terrorist attack, it was not an airline flight queue. It was a city centre cinema. We were going to the movies.
Maybe I’ve just lost track of what constitutes ‘normal’ security procedures these days but the information that was demanded (The fields in the online ticketing box were mandatory, not optional) was the kind I would expect to fill in if I was opening a bank account or filling in important legal documents.
But all I was doing was registering to purchase the family tickets for a cartoon at the cinema. I won’t embarrass the cinema in question by naming them.
Although I don’t believe they would be embarrassed, as when Hubby Tweeted them to ask why they required our race to book tickets their reply was a simple “for CRM purposes only”.
I will, in the interests of fairness, point out that the online purchase system was excellent in terms of speed and efficiency. We could choose the exact seats we wanted and even tied the purchase into our online bank account.
I don’t know much about Customer Relationship Management but I do know that you don’t need to know what race a customer is in order to be able to serve them best. Especially if what they are buying is a ticket to see a film.
Friends have since shared similar requests for information when getting loyalty cards, test drives and hotel stays. But why? Personally, I believe the cinema when they say they are only using this information for CRM.
They probably do promote certain movies to certain races and do nothing more or less cynical than market movies to the race which they feel are most likely to watch them.
It is tempting to get all self-righteous and indignantly talk about human rights and privacy laws but as guests in the country the most we can do is point out politely why we disagree and suggest an alternative. So here goes.
In the event that a service provider of any kind, banks, loyalty cards, test drives, hotels or cinemas are reading this, racial profiling is not just unethical, it doesn’t actually work. In Madagascar 3, for example, there were at least five different races watching the movie.
Consumer behaviour and tastes are defined by personality, not race. It seems self-evident but even take this magazine. It isn’t a magazine for a race. It’s a magazine for people who want lifestyle articles, advice, information and entertainment.
Those are individual tastes. You can be Asian, Caucasian, African or from the Moon and it will make no difference to what products or services you like. (Okay, you might be sick of cheese if you live on the Moon).
Of course, tastes and behaviour can be defined by experience and background. But the fact that I love Vegemite sandwiches isn’t because I’m white. It isn’t even directly because I’m Australian.
It’s just that by being Australian I ate it more and got the taste for it. Likewise, to go back to the movie example, the cinema could claim that knowing a customer is Indian allows them to market Bollywood movies more effectively. But that isn’t right.
By defining the customer by race they are discounting the idea that anyone not of that race might like Bollywood films. Which doesn’t make any marketing sense at all. The point is, that the cinema could avoid the question of race altogether if they looked more closely at consumer behaviour.
All they have to do is monitor the types of film an individual sees, then market appropriately. If someone likes Bollywood, send them news about that. If they go to family movies and generally book two adult seats and two kids’ seats, then make a note for the next Pixar or Dreamworks release.
If someone only watches Mel Gibson movies... call the men in white coats. It’s not complicated. Cinemas could do this, and I think should do this. Otherwise, we are never going to escape the misguided concept that we are our race first and individuals second.