Is This the End of Behavioral Targeting?

As the saga continues between advertisers and the Federal Trade Commission regarding giving consumers the opportunity to opt out of behaviorally targeted advertising, one thing is for sure: the advertising will not stop, nor will the targeting. Behavioral targeting, while based on consumers’ past behaviors, is hardly the main digital gateway to consumer data.

Consider social media, where users voluntarily submit personal information (date of birth and phone number) to data management systems that are now marrying back-end data. This seemingly harmless practice of offering information affords advertisers the ability to not only target consumers based on the items they’re shopping for, but also hone in on a target based on their credit score.

That’s right: the world of advanced targeting has come leaps and bounds from behavioral targeting, and continues to evolve as more dollars shift into the digital space. As a result, publishers and networks are trying to identify themselves with some sort of competitive advantage or insight that can allow them to vie for the available dollars.

So, if this is the end of behavioral targeting, where does the blame lie?

Is it with advertisers who bombard the digital space with unnecessary, useless, lackluster ads that interrupt and clutter the user experience? Enforcing more restrictions on granular level targeting is only going to increase the influx of irrelevant ads on consumers (i.e., receiving an ad to complete my degree online, when my diploma already hangs on my wall).

Is it with publishers and websites, that open their doors to networks layering on vast amounts of targeting and selling, brokering, and re-brokering inventory on exchanges? This vast amount of inventory creates a maze of inventory identifiable by various non-personally identifiable, however, personal profile points…since I think credit score is considered personal.

Or is it with the consumer, who uses the digital space on a regular basis, leveraging existing available content to offer up this information through their online activities. Take Blippy, a social networking site where users voluntarily share their credit card or bank information so other users can see what, where, and how much they’re spending on a daily basis. It’s beyond me how someone can voluntarily share with strangers the fact that they spent $13.76 at CVS for feminine hygiene products, but then expresses concern about receiving an advertisement online identifying them as behaviorally interested in shopping for makeup online.

I think the blame lies with all three groups, and I challenge all of them to the following:

Advertisers and agencies. Create something beyond your typical advertisement and offer consumers something valuable, and perhaps more important, useful for them. Remember that a consumer’s time is precious, and in today’s world, if you’re going digital with your efforts, there has to be some value or utility to it.

Publishers and websites. It’s a longshot, but here goes: at some point, it would be nice to know the inventory you’re buying isn’t being sold to 30 different vendors for 30 different prices, all for the same product. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s release of ad network and exchange guidelines is a productive step toward standardization of transparency.

Consumers. Be cognizant of your sharing behavior online; know what your default settings are within various online networks and properties; and understand what opting in or out can and cannot change about your user experience.

I don’t think it’s the end of behavioral targeting. As the space evolves, so will options for advertisers, agencies, publishers, and consumers. We simply need to learn how to take advantage of them.

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