Quizzes are free data mining tools for brands

If you’re on Facebook, you may have noticed a lot of quizzes lately. Which state should you live in? What kind of dog are you? Which US President are you? How would you die in Game of Thrones?

I took all of these quizzes and, for the record: If I were a state, I’d be Idaho. If I were a dog, I’d be a lab, if I were a president, I’d be Ulysses S Grant, if I were in Game of Thrones, I would be decapitated

Why am I posting all of this on Facebook?

"It’s a way to announce something about ourselves to our friends within our social network, but it’s not quite so gauche or obvious to come off as narcissistic," says Michael Serazio, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Fairfield University and author of Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerilla Marketing

You see the reason I would be decapitated in Game of Thrones, is that I’m "well-intentioned and loyal to a fault.”

I want people to know this about me, so I share it and then I want to hear more good things about myself, so I take another quiz.

"We’ve been making quizzes for a long time, but we’ve recently seen them take off," says Summer Anne Burton, Managing Editorial Director at Buzzfeed, which is behind many of the most popular online quizzes. "Now that we’ve sold some companies on the idea of quizzes... we're now looking at how to use the things that we’ve learned for companies’ benefit. So they can have their own shareable pieces of content that go viral and that are really associated with their brand."

Buzzfeed recently teamed up with HBO on the "How would you die in Game of Thrones Quiz" it got over a million hits. It’s a very effective ad for Game of Thrones and, as it turns out, a very effective data mining tool.

"It’s a tool for advertisers to understand us better masquerading as a tool for us to understand ourselves better," says Aram Sinnreich, a media professor at Rutgers University and author of The Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry's War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties.

As Sinnreich explains, not only does HBO now know I watch Game of Thrones, in taking the quiz, I gave them a lot of information. My preferred alcohol: white wine. My last meal: a steak. My biggest fear: failure. My idea of heaven: A tropical beach.

That is hugely valuable information.

"That’s the brilliance of this plan," says Sinnreich. "Instead of us reluctantly agreeing to give marketers information about ourselves, we are emphatically proclaiming to marketers who we are and then demanding that our friends do the same."

Sinnreich says the quiz fad will probably fade, but the economic need for marketers to get more information on us will not. He expects we’ll see more tools that will make handing over information about ourselves into a game.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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