The ways companies market their products has changed immensely since Jeff Rum started in the business more than 20 years ago.
Rum, 42, chief marketing officer at CMR Ignite, started to program and sell his own computer games at computer fairs a couple years after he became a bar mitzvah. In the decades since, the marketing business has become more and more hyper-targeted.
The Bethesda resident’s first business was a solo endeavor at a creative agency, where he designed and built websites and magazine advertisements. Many of today’s social media platforms didn’t exist or weren’t being used in the way they are now, Rum said. Because of this, most of his magazine ads were static, and would only reach the demographics that were already reading the magazine his advertisements would appear in. Rum and other marketers could only hit a fraction of their intended audience.
“But now, if you only want to reach women of a certain age group, in a certain geographic area, who drink coffee, like yoga, and have children of a certain age, you could get really specific and only show your advertisements or content to those people,” said Rum, a member of Kol Shalom in Rockville.
Rum’s second home is The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, where he sits on the board of directors and finance committee. He’s also served on the executive committee and was the vice chair of strategic planning and allocations. His communal involvement also includes Hillel International, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Americans for Ben Gurion University. And in his younger days, he chaired the National Young Leadership Cabinet.
“I get to combine my passions,” said Rum. “So when I get to work with a Jewish organization, I’m doing it because I feel that I can help professionally.”
Rum said modern digital advertising is focused on learning about individuals as users. Advertisers want to figure out people’s behaviors and what motivates them online. Information like this comes from activity such as what posts a person likes and shares, what websites they like to visit, and what their search engine inputs are.
If a person is looking on a vacation booking website, they may notice ads for their potential destination on the websites and apps they visit. That’s because a pixel has been placed on their browser and now the ads being served to them are based on their browsing and purchasing behavior.
“Some people are a little scared by it, but from an advertising or marketing point of view, you can get extremely targeted now in your advertising,” Rum said.
While this extra data is beneficial for marketers, Rum said, he added that they do have to ask ethical questions to prevent it from going “too far.”
In the last year, Facebook has changed some of the ways that advertisers can target people based on religious affiliation. Rum said Facebook is trying to curtail messages of hate or organizations trying to bully or intimidate people of a certain faith. Because of this new rule system, Rum and other advertisers cannot target only Jewish people, for example.
“There are ways around it,” Rum said. “You could target people that like certain things that tend to be Jewish, like holidays, organizations or Israel-related things. So there are ways of building out what we call audience profiles to target them with specific messages.”
While these new rules can help mitigate religious-based hate, Rum said one can argue that it also hurts organizations, because it means that nonprofits that are trying to reach the Jewish community to alert them of information can’t do it as easily on Facebook as they used to.
“So obviously with social media and any technology advancements, there are always pros and cons of whether something goes too far,” Rum said. “Like everything, you could be abusing it or you could be using it for good.”
As it becomes easier to target specific individuals and gather data, Rum said digital advertisers, corporations, and companies need to focus inwardly on their values in order to continue advertising responsibly.
“If you are a corporation that wants to earn revenue and increase business, you risk your profitability if you’re not being ethical online,” Rum said. “Because ultimately, social media is an open space and open platform. People will decide if they want to do business with you based on your activities and your behavior online as a company or as an organization.”