A case for giving consumers more information about the targeted ads they see.
Consumer privacy is a hot issue in the behavioral marketing space. However, this issue seems to have been framed by regulators, advertisers, publishers, and ad networks that are looking at things from an industry vantage point.
This column will be written from the vantage point of consumers, unencumbered by ad industry spin, because most consumers don't have the luxury of expressing their feelings on this issue to the industry.
It's the Ad, Stupid
On the Internet, the conversation revolves around "educating the consumer" on privacy issues. It seems we need to be educated on what information is being collected about us, how ad networks function, and how this really isn't hurting our privacy.
We really don't care. That's the problem.
All we care about is the ad we're seeing on a page at any moment. Is it remotely relevant? Is it "creepy relevant"? Is it offensive or distracting? Is it blocking content we're trying to read?
"Consumer privacy" issues only surface when we see an ad that delights or infuriates us. This is the time to talk to us about opting out of behaviorally targeted ads, or, to look at it another way, opting in to random ads.
In any case, it always starts with the ad.
Let's take a cue from Facebook, which has employed little "thumbs up" icons. We know what that means. Nonetheless, agencies are researching phrases that will entice us to learn more about behavioral targeting. Some of these phrases include "About this ad," "Ad Preferences," "Tailored ad," "Ad Choice," and "Why this ad?"
We know the answer to "Why this ad?" It gives us free content. What are my "ad preferences"? My preference is to see no ads, but then my free content goes away. Only a few of us care about "choice" or "tailoring."
What we really want is to vote the ad we're currently staring at off of the page, or to see that we get more ads like it. That would be helpful.
What if we could keep that ad from ever appearing again? What if we could keep that ad from ever appearing anywhere on the Internet? Those are nice benefits. Behavioral targeting enables these benefits. Turn off targeting, and we're back in random ad world.
So, what happens when we click on the thumbs-up icon? We should be shown information about the ad:
With a little imagination, we could also provide additional information:
And with some effort and cooperation, we could offer more.
All of this is pointing to something that looks more like an online community than an educational microsite. Consumers may not understand what the NAI opt-out page is about, but all of us are learning the ways of the online community.
The YouTube of Ads
After clicking on a thumbs-up icon, the page should look more like a YouTube page, with the ad being central. Information about the company, ad network, and permissions would populate the upper left. The ad would be rated and its merits discussed in comments. Ads deemed relevant by targeting technologies would be displayed where "Related Videos" appear on a YouTube page.
A community like this is just another way for brands to lose control of their ad placements, and it's easy to see why they would be wary at first.
Public comment on ads isn't new, though. Steve Hall and company have praised and razzed ads for years on the always entertaining AdRants. Ads of the World has posted advertisements publicly for comment since 2006.
There may be copyright issues. Should this site be using publishers' and advertisers' copyrighted creative without permission? Hall told me that he has rarely been asked to remove ads from his site for reasons of copyright. Advertisers want people to see their ads, and this "AdTube" site would be another way to socialize advertisers' messages.
Publishers will be concerned about eyeballs being taken away from their site. Of course, this is what they sell to advertisers, and ads are designed to take visitors' attention away.
In truth, publishers might rush to plug into an "AdTube." They could position it as a value ad; another place where their advertisers' ads could "go viral."
Ad Network Concerns
This "AdTube" community represents yet another place where impressions can't be easily measured. It's another place for competing ad networks to battle over who gets credit for impressions and clicks. The scrappier networks will find ways to game the system.
The community would need the cooperation of the ad networks for some of the more advanced features listed above. If this community were a cooperative effort, then tacit cooperation may help alleviate some of this conflict.
Let's face it; the politicians and bureaucrats aren't going to get this. They won't understand how this would be in the public interest. They'll prefer a nice, neat educational microsite. They'll probably get it too, because government intervention is the primary motivator for the online ad industry's efforts.
What are your concerns? Let us know in the comments. Also, let us know about other online resources where ads are discussed and dissected.
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With 15 years of online marketing experience, Brian has designed the digital strategy and marketing infrastructure for a number of businesses, including his own technology consulting company, Conversion Sciences. He built his company to transform the Internet from a giant digital-brochure stand to a place where people find the answers they seek. His clients use online strategies to engage their visitors and grow their businesses. Brian has created a series of Web strategy workshops and authors the Conversion Scientist blog. Brian works from Austin, Texas, a place where life and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined.
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