DAA Behavioral Icon Risks Irrelevance

The Digital Advertising Alliance’s behavioral icon is appearing in ads that aren’t behaviorally targeted, potentially diluting the efforts of its self-regulatory program and confusing the consumers it hopes to educate and empower.

Following its introduction late last year, the DAA’s behavioral ad icon is now seeing widespread adoption thanks to support from major advertisers, agencies, and ad networks.

Late last month, however, WPP-owned data-driven buying unit Xaxis ran display ad campaigns across a range of Websites, including trade publications Paidcontent.org and ClickZ.com. Those campaigns were purchased on a run of site basis, but still included the DAA icon, suggesting inaccurately that they were being targeted based on behavioral information.

Though the icon’s inclusion in the campaign may appear harmless, the DAA itself has repeatedly emphasized the need for increased consumer education and awareness around behavioral targeting. Misleading consumers to believe an ad is behaviorally targeted even when it isn’t could be counterproductive, and could ultimately lead to further confusion around a technology already concerning regulators, legislators and consumers.

“We hadn’t thought about the potential effect of undermining the DAA’s efforts, and that wasn’t the intention. We made the decision to prominently display the icon in order to demonstrate our support for it,” Paul Dolan, managing director of Xaxis North America told ClickZ, adding, “It was probably a superfluous use, we were doing it to make a point.”

According to Dolan, the properties across which the campaign ran were all highly industry focused, minimizing the potential for widespread confusion since the majority of the audience for those sites are already familiar with the technology behind behavioral advertising.

Meanwhile, DAA Managing Director Peter Kosmala said the Xaxis example is not the only non-behavioral campaign he’s aware of that has included the icon, and suggested its use simply raises the visibility of the program. “There are a couple of companies floating about out there, but I wouldn’t say it’s a trend,” he told ClickZ.

Kosmala went on to concede, however, that these occurrences could cause confusion if they become widespread. “It would behoove [these advertisers] to offer more clarity that the campaigns aren’t behavioral,” he said, adding that the body will “have further conversations with Xaxis and others,” though not in a punitive way.

Perhaps the most important issue surrounding the perpetual use of the icon is the opt-out message and mechanism it delivers, though. For example, users that click the icon and decide to opt-out could still be notified through a misplaced icon that an ad is behaviorally targeted, even when it’s not.

That type of misinformation somewhat contradicts the DAA’s focus on providing consumers with information and choice around the practice. “That’s a conflicting message… We didn’t consider a situation like that,” Dolan admitted in relation to the Xaxis campaign. He went on to make clear that the company currently recommends its advertiser clients include the icon in any behavioral campaigns they conduct with it, which is the vast majority given the nature of the Xaxis’s services.

DAA Expands Self-Regulatory Program With Quantcast Partnership

In related news, the DAA announced an expansion of its self-regulatory program this week through a partnership with Quantcast. Under the terms of the agreement the audience measurement and segmentation firm will power the behavioral icon for free for is small to mid-size publisher clients.

Starting in July, the icon and link to a consumer opt-out page will be available to publishers with annual behavioral ad revenues under $2 million and total annual revenues under $15 million. Commenting on the partnership, Kosmala said he hoped it would act as a catalyst for further adoption of the icon among long-tail publishers.

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