Nathan Fielder’s critically acclaimed HBO show, “The Rehearsal,” has been met with overall positive reviews albeit some confusion as viewers struggle to deconstruct the part social experiment, part comedic genius, part manipulative jerk narrative that has created quite the discourse. Some have even dubbed it a comedic Rorschach test—more commonly known as the inkblot test.
The Nathan Fielder method, unveiled in Episode 4 of the series, pushes the boundaries of method acting into “stalker territory.”
Method actors like Marlon Brando have made famous their behind-the-scenes selves as “being” as they fully inhabit the roles of their characters. But Fielder asks the building-block question: how do you become?
The ethicists among us ask “how far is too far?” In a world that tries to understand its consumers from the inside out, what is privacy after all? As marketing becomes hyper- personalized, we’ve seen companies take steps to protect users’ privacy. But at what cost?
The Fielder method
The Nathan Fielder method breaks down into the following: shadow a real person and try to understand them from the inside out — their choices, their occupation, their home, their mannerisms — and then essentially become that person in order to “play” them in one of Fielder’s rehearsals.
This method insists that you “become” first through keen observation, then you step into the shoes as yourself. Presumably there’s some magic that happens between living another person’s life verbatim to becoming that person and then actually being that person.
Although Fielder’s inception fails to show that magical bridge between reality and simulation, and maybe is pointing to the talent that actors must have to cross that threshold, his theory seems relatively sound as he points to questions such as: What do you know about a person? What can you observe about a person? How can you figure out how that person feels?
And of course, at what point do you enter “stalking territory”?
Walking a personalization tightrope
Consumers self-report time and again that they prefer personalization. The proof is in the numbers as brands who are able to create customer intimacy generate 40 percent more revenue from those activities than average players. Personalization is a performance driver, but when do brands hit the uncanny valley?
Rooted in Sigmund Freud’s thesis of the uncanny, uncanny personalization occurs when the data is both too close and not quite close enough to what we know about ourselves. In the pursuit of personalization, brands need to be wary of crossing the line between clever and creepy.
Perhaps there are brands that personalize simply because consumers say they want that. But many brands personalize to show that they are listening to their consumers need’s—and aim to do so respectfully.
However, the pursuit of personalization is occurring amidst the backdrop of misuse of consumer data being one of the industry's largest immediate concerns. The data-privacy landscape is everchanging and major laws and regulations governing companies’ collection, use, and disclosure of personal information have been enacted, such as the GDPR and CCPA. Google even lets users report ads that “know too much” about them.
Navigating a moral conundrum
It’s important to keep personalized marketing timely, entertaining and useful, while being sensitive to customer privacy. Self-regulation is in a brands’ own interest as you don’t want to alienate the people you want to persuade. By creating personalized customer relationships, it’s imperative to illustrate that the customer’s best interest is at the heart of the created advertising all while keeping the human element of what we do intact.
At Epsilon, we think a lot about our role in delivering personalized experiences. We use what we have to deliver those experiences while being respectful, but most importantly protecting privacy comes first. Even though your data is attached to ours, we’ll never share or combine it to enrich any other party—even our own CORE IDs. We’ve always been open with consumers about how their personal information is used, and given them tools to opt out or to access their info.
Unlike “The Rehearsal” where Fielder encourages his acting students to compile data about their chosen characters for their own gain (a certificate of course completion), Epsilon is committed to activating data for the benefit of consumers. Of course this is good for brands! But we do it for you.
Kind of a throwback to when Fielder was Nathan for You.