Right off the top, I need to say how the thoughts of our chamber and our members are with the Bowdoin College community as they deal with the passing of a student over the weekend. In small, close-knit communities like the campus of Bowdoin College, a loss of life can reverberate throughout the entire culture. Know our thoughts are with you during this difficult time.

This week, I’m taking a pause on the profiles of the chamber’s award winners. I find such value in those pieces, as I love sharing the stories of our business leaders. However, with the legislative session ending in a few weeks, there is a particular issue that we need to address. I’m still getting my head around the implications of it, but I feel a responsibility to make you aware of what I know thus far.

I’ve received several updates from trade association people I trust in Augusta about L.D. 1977, “An Act to Create the Data Privacy and Protection Act,” that just passed out of the Judiciary Committee and is going to the Legislature for a vote. The bill is intended to safeguard people’s privacy information. From what I’m hearing, the bill has some great common-sense pieces; however, there is one area, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that may hurt many businesses that I want to bring your attention to.

The issue involves targeted marketing. Targeted marketing is a commonly used practice where organizations create ads or event invitations and try to send them to particular new consumers who meet their consumer profile. To be clear, targeted marketing has existed for as long as marketing has. For instance, if you’re hosting a monster truck event, and you choose to advertise on the hard rock radio station rather than the classical music radio station, that’s a version of target marketing. Or if your event is in the Portland area, you may have used a Portland radio station and not the Bangor one, because you are targeting consumers in that market.

Online targeted marketing is used when a toy shop, for instance, has a new product line and they want the ad to be seen by parents who live within 50 miles of their store, or when a new hunting retailer opens, and they want to invite men who like hunting and fishing videos to come to the ribbon cutting. Facebook boosted ads are commonly used and very affordable for businesses — especially businesses that may not have the money to blanket the entire region with television ads like bigger corporations can. For pennies per view, businesses can be sure their ads hit their likely consumers, and to be frank, with the response rate on these targeted ads, the people being targeted attend the events and come to the stores because it’s the type of item or event they like.

As I understand it, if this law passes, businesses wouldn’t be able to use the targeted marketing of boosted ads on Facebook to get new customers who haven’t opted in for these notifications or the equivalent ads on Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms. As it was explained to me, while small businesses themselves are exempt from the legislation, if they use larger, online technology platforms to market (such as Facebook), they would be impacted by the limits imposed on targeted marketing and e-commerce growth. This means the businesses could still do online target marketing, but they can’t use Facebook, for example, to do so. I’m not tech-savvy enough to figure out how a small business could target market online without using social media besides, I suppose, creating their own social media network, maybe?


For businesses that have shrinking marketing budgets due to inflation and that can’t afford huge spreads of traditional media to flood the market about announcements, this can greatly curb new customer growth. Sure, you can market to your existing customers who opt in, but how do you gain more customers as quickly and as efficiently without social media in 2024? I worry about new businesses and entrepreneurs who are just starting in the marketplace and wonder how slow their message will grow by simple word-of-mouth if the fertile ground of social media is not available for them to pursue new customers.

Again, I don’t know all of the intricacies of this bill as its 27 pages and I haven’t had time to comprehend it all, but if this passes, it sounds to me like this could be quite costly for our businesses and take a big tool out of their marketing toolkit. I encourage marketing managers and business owners to contact your local senator and representative if you have feelings to share or questions about how this would affect your business. To be fair, as this has only been in committee, your legislators may not realize the impact this will have or even be aware of the bill yet. Because of that, I encourage you to pursue your legislators in a way to educate them on the impacts rather than assuming they are either for or against it, as the committee that passed this is only about a dozen of the 170-plus legislators who will end up voting on it.

Our chamber of commerce, like many business and trade associations, believe in safeguarding information from ne’re-do-wells, and we see that privacy bills are being passed around the country. However, none of the privacy bills in other states go nearly this far as to limit affordable targeted marketing options on social media.

If your business would be more comfortable sharing your concerns with the BBRC on the effects of this bill, we’d be happy to pass them along to the legislators in our region. The time is now, though, as we’ll probably want to send any comments by the end of this week, so email cory@midcoastmaine.com soon.

Look forward to us sharing the story of President’s Award winner Jen Charboneau next week.

Cory King is executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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