22 January 2008

In Valence Theory, Are There Really Third Parties?

My post on Creep-Out Marketing has attracted a lot of attention from the good folks at AstraZeneca, who have made that post the number one landing spot for my blog today (and number two after the main page, yesterday). Good to see that they're paying attention to what folks are saying about them among the blogs.

I have yet to receive any information from Rx Canada, the marketing organization that is in receipt of unethically obtained personal medical information. The opt-out phone number leads to a voice response system that invites the caller to enter the extension of the person I want to reach, or to access a corporate phone directory of names. Unfortunately, there's no entry for the Chief Creepiness Officer. The extension for the "Privacy Officer" (extension 222) listed on the website leads to a voicemail telling me that the person is away from their desk. Apparently all day long...

AstraZeneca, the company that seems to be paying the most attention to this, is perhaps the least culpable, since they are only a "partner" in Rx Canada's enterprise, providing what it thinks might be useful patient information. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that my local pharmacy staff went out of their way to release my personal information of their own accord. The dispensary staff are always keen to provide in-person counselling to customers, especially when filling a first-time prescription, so the need to take this initiative without first asking seems entirely out of character. Since this is clearly computer-driven, this seems most likely to be a corporate initiative, especially since it has the hallmarks of corporate marketing written all over it.

In a traditional BAH construction of organization, each party has plausible deniability for this infraction and violation of the College of Pharmacists Code of Ethics. Each distinct organization - AZ, Rx Canada, SDM Corporate, and My Local Pharmacy - is merely fulfilling its function. AZ supplies materials that are optionally available for patients. Rx Canada receives a supposedly vetted list of patients who supposedly opt in, with no responsibility for verifying that list. Indeed, RxC would have no way of verifying the list while staying within the bounds of confidentiality of medical records. SDM Corporate provides the infrastructure (and most likely the upload defaults), and My Local SDM Pharmacy Assistants, who hand me my filled 'script, are probably unaware of the defaults, or of the need to ask if I want the additional information, or any number of other excuses for how "the computer system" happened to pass my information up the marketing supply chain. In a BAH conception, each organization is distinct, each is doing its appropriate job, and the problems happen at the boundary interfaces.

As a valence organization, the emergent organization comprised of all of the above parties, and me, holds the responsibility for the systems-level screw-up. There are no so-called third parties, since the end customer is as much a part of the organization as the marketing department (and arguably, is a member of the marketing department), as are the others previously known as partners or suppliers. In a valence organization, you can't pass off responsibility because, by definition, you are all in the same boat and equally responsible for the effects. I must have missed seeing the invitation to the meeting at which the implementation plan for all of this was discussed. Damn spam filling up the inbox... One of these days I ought to go out and... Get off my lawn you hoodlums...

And what were the effects? An simple analysis of what happened according to Effect-ive Theory demonstrates that the principle of reversal has kicked in - the effect of the marketing initiative is precisely the opposite of what was intended. Instead of a post from an avid blogger saying, isn't the service and support from this drug manufacturer and this pharmacy retailer outstanding, you have a series of posts questioning the thinking of AstraZeneca's and Shopper's Drug Mart's marketing departments, and the ethicality of the intermediary third party's business endeavour.

Update (28 Jan 2008): Resolution of the issue is here.

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