Marketers Ramp up Efforts to Self-Regulate

As we watch the U.S. government rescue the financial services and auto industries with bailouts (will they help?), oversight (too little too late?), and a demand for accountability (finally!), media and marketing pundits have decided it’s time to toe the line with strong and clear self-regulation before the government steps in on their party as well.

Four associations — the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) — teamed up with the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB), to develop guidelines to self-regulate online behavioral marketing practices.

According to a press release from AAAA:

    Four leading marketing and advertising industry associations today announced that they are working together to develop enhanced self-regulatory principles for online behavioral advertising in order to address privacy concerns and to increase consumers’ trust and confidence in how online information is gathered and used. This cross-industry self-regulatory initiative represents the first time the entire marketing-media ecosystem has come together to develop practices in interactive advertising.

The statement continues:

    The joint industry task force plans to engage with policymakers, a broad cross section of business, consumers, and other important stakeholders as it addresses the important public policy issues that have been raised regarding online behavioral advertising. The group is currently discussing the areas for self-regulation set forth in the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed self-regulatory principles issued in December 2007, including education and transparency, consumer notification and choice, data security, and self-regulatory enforcement. The associations look forward to working with the FTC as it continues to review its privacy principles.

    The members of these associations, along with other participants of the group, together represent thousands of advertisers, agencies, marketers, publishers, media companies, ad networks, and other service providers, including the major participants in the online advertising marketplace. The initiative will seek to address concerns about the use of online consumer data for behavioral advertising purposes while preserving the innovative and robust advertising that supports the vast array of free online content.

The interesting aspect of this effort is how it incorporates input from all aspects of the media spectrum. The media trade groups as participants was to be expected, but the presence of the BBB was a pleasant surprise and should add an interesting spin to the evolution of the best practices and recommended policies. Since consumer trust is a myth in the current economic climate, the BBB is surely a stronger consumer voice and hopefully will offer a more balanced vision. I’m a big proponent of behavioral marketing, but I’m also a consumer. I’m just as leery as the next person when policies are created by groups that are too heavily self-serving; I welcome this balance.

Bob Liodice, president and CEO of ANA, recapped the current status nicely: “Behavioral marketing provides enormous benefits to consumers, but it is our responsibility as marketers to ensure the Web-surfing public’s privacy interests remain protected. Strong and comprehensive self-regulation strikes a balance that both protects the public interest and allows marketers to provide relevant advertising, which is particularly critical during this period of economic downturn.”

With a new administration in the White House with a high level of understanding and respect for the online world, as well as a clear mandate to win back people’s trust in anything presidential or administrative, the timing is no accident. President Barack Obama is the first president to create the position of chief technology officer (as of press time, the choice has been narrowed down to two). He understands the importance and the power of technology overall and Web 2.0 in particular. Rumor has it that during the election his Web 2.0 staff was upward of 100 and will continue to place a priority on all things online. So does the new regime suggest a better understanding of online’s power, with a bow to behavioral marketing, or will the climate be more protective of perceived privacy dangers than ever? It will continue to be a wild ride.

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