Eric Barnouw’s reminder that the commercial market has outrun public interest policy

We know that many in the media reform community believe that they will be able to convince policymakers to create a more democratic electronic media system. But a more pragmatic approach is also required, one based on proactively responding to the array of mergers, acquisitions and venture investment shaping our new media reality. In another words, developing our own new media realities within the framework which has been largely set by all that investment and the development of the basic business model (primarily online advertising). We have always been struck by this analysis from the preeminent historian of U.S. broadcasting, the late Erik Barnouw. In “The Golden Web” (vol. 2 of his three volume history of broadcasting), Barnouw wrote that:

The Communications Act of 1934, re-enacting a 1927 law with only minor changes, was based on a premise that had been obsolete in 1927 and by 1934 was totally invalid: that American broadcasting was a local responsibility exercised by individual station licensees.
The myth held attractions. It dovetailed with the cherished idea of local autonomy in such matters as education. But while the law went on pretending that the autonomy existed in broadcasting, control had been ceded to others—executives at networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors, many of whom had no idea what was in a station license and did not think they had any reason to care.”

In other words, market forces had already shaped broadcasting’s future–even before the ink was dry on the 1934 Act. Something to reflect upon as we engage in work to craft a democratic digital medium.

Google’s Schmidt to the largest advertisers: “new forms of storytelling” will empower brands

The late preeminent communications scholar George Gerbner often explained that society needed to be concerned about who had the power to tell its stories. To set the values and the identity of the culture. Gerbner was especially concerned about television. Today, he would be focused on the emerging digital medium. That’s why we were struck by Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s address yesterday to the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) conference. According to a story in today’s New York Times [sub required] Schmidt explained that:

digital media will “create new opportunities for advertisers and new opportunities for information.” He added, “The scale of this is underappreciated.” The opportunities will come in the form of “developing new forms of storytelling”…

AAAA, of course, represents the leading global ad agencies. The stories they will tell for their clients will overflow our mobile devices, web browsers, and digital televisions. Content, communications, and commerce are fully intertwined in the new medium, it’s true. But advertisers–including Google–need to more than tread carefully here. These stories will have a tremendous influence on society–and social responsibility is required. But we will also need new governmental rules which address the `product placement is the news and entertainment we receive’ conundrum.

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Senator Dorgan: remember the role of digitally targeted ads & FTC in subprime mortgage scandal

Last November, my CDD and USPIRG filed an amended complaint with the FTC asking it to crack down on behavioral targeting, including its role in the subprime mortgage lending crisis. We are glad Senator Dorgan and others raised concerns that the FTC is failing to do its job in this critical area. Online mortgage lending–and related financial matters–requires serious consumer safeguards. Online marketers–including search engines and social networks–have looked the other way while a great tragedy has befallen so many in the country. We are urging Senator Dorgan to examine the CDD/PIRG complaint, and help get the FTC and other regulators on the case.

Behavioral targeter Collective Media looks to hire

It’s always useful to examine the employment listings. Here’s one from Collective Media, which claims it offersTargeting like no other. Our comprehensive targeting capabilities are unrivaled in the industry. Not only do we have the premiere technology for content, contextual and behavioral segmentation, we have the expertise to make the most of it…By leveraging partner Personifi’s context targeting and powerful taxonomy, Collective is able to offer advanced audience behavior targeting…

  • Collective tracks frequency and recency of past visits to assign a behavior segment to a user.
  • Collective then targets these users across our network of publishers to extend reach to any audience segment.
  • Understanding people’s interests and actions allow us to reach them at just the right time, place and with the most appropriate message.”

So in case you want to apply for Ad Operations Client Manager, you will need to appreciate that Collective’s “Ad Network Management Platform (AMP) is the revolutionary platform…to manage the thousands of sites and billions of ad impressions that run through its network each month…reaching more than 140 million unique users monthly.”

(PS: Given Collective’s use of DoubleClick, it will be interesting to see what Google’s role will eventually be).

WPP’s 24/7 Real Media pushing “psychographic targeting” to “drive buyer behavior and brand affinity”

The online advertising industry is throwing rocks at our notions of consumer protection in the digital age. Don’t they realize a serious public debate about all this is required before they engage willy-nilly in advanced targeted?
Here’s an excerpt from WPP’s 24/7 April 28, 2008 release:”…announced that it is the first media network to deploy psychographic targeting through a partnership with Mindset Media, LLC. The new Mindset Buysâ„¢ will enable brand advertisers to target consumers with specific personality traits that drive buyer behavior and brand affinity across a broad range of consumer goods and services.Brand advertisers have long known that consumers’ states of mind can determine what they buy and what brands they choose, but advertisers have lacked an efficient way to target mass audiences of people with the right psychographics.

Now advertisers can make Mindset Buys on 20 different elements of personality, including creativity, assertiveness, self-esteem, and spontaneity. Each Mindset Buy on 24/7 Real Media can reach millions of U.S. consumers with the same personality trait, on a completely anonymous basis. The 24/7 network reaches 150 million unique viewers each month, across more than 1,500 sites globally…Psychographic targeting through Mindset Media represents the latest addition to 24/7’s advanced portfolio of targeting solutions, which also includes lifecycle management, search retargeting, geo-demographic, content, behavioral, retargeting and custom. Many of these can be combined to form an endless number of specific targeting options that can be delivered to any digital medium.”

From Mindset: “Our proprietary table of elements makes Mindset targeting possible. The table comprises 20 personality traits that drive buyer behavior and brand affinity across a broad range of consumer goods and services, from beauty care to banking, cars to credit cards, food to pharmaceuticals.”

Update: DM News quotes a 24/7 and a Mindset exec.: “[S]imply put, it’s the ability to target individuals based on what makes them themselves,” said Ari Bluman, SVP of North American sales and operations for 24/7 Real Media. “From a direct marketing perspective, obviously being in front of the right audience that buys a product or is moved by a message is essential,” he said…Mindset Media has identified 20 different elements of personality, which include assertiveness, openness, spontaneity and pragmatism…The goal is to create mass audiences of people who tend to have the same personality type, [Jim] Meyer [CEO and co-founder of Mindset Media] said.

Yahoo! merger or deal watch. privacy division: Yahoo! may expand behavioral targeting

All these privacy, data collection and marketplace competition issues will need sorting out. Yahoo is acquiring “Tensa Kft., more commonly known as IndexTools…IndexTools will add more insight and metrics for online campaigns…” One search column explains the significance of the deal is the “…huge benefit that Yahoo will have is the ability to put their pixels (data collection mechanism) around the web and hence collect data. Which, in turn, will help their Behavioral Targeting efforts, which are currently limited to Yahoo portal only. This is huge!!!

Services to protect advertisers online from appearing next to "inappropriate" broadband content emerge

TV networks and ad agencies have long had a system in place to make sure programming doesn’t conflict with the interests of its key audience: advertisers. Network standard and practices departments reviewed entertainment programming to make sure a marketer–or the network–wouldn’t be embarrassed by the theme or content. We are beginning to see such practices emerge for the online medium. For example, last year Feedburner [now owned by Google], the leading ad service company for blogs, began a service called “Adclimate” that “suppresses when an ad would be served in an RSS item or blog post containing keywords that an advertiser has pre-selected as inappropriate for their brand…FeedBurner’s AdClimate was developed to meet the needs of its advertisers in a rapidly developing market. This capability addresses advertisers’ apprehensions about their brands appearing within distributed media. Controlling ad targeting based on advertiser-selected keywords provides peace of mind and additional control.”

Now there are similar services for the burgeoning world of broadband video. ScanScout, for example, says it offers advertisers “brand protection.” The company asks: “How can advertisers be assured that their brand messages will only be seen adjacent to the most appropriate content?” That’s where “ScanScout’s Content Matching technology” comes in, because “[I]t ensures that the right ad is shown to the right user at the most opportune time.
Brand Protection: ScanScout technology is designed to ensure that advertisers’ brand messages will only be seen adjacent to the most appropriate content.”

ScanScout explains that (its emphasis) “rich content scanning is deeper and more precise than anything ever introduced, creating algorithmic intelligence about each video and each user’s behavior, enabling far better matching than ever imagined…”

Much is said about the important role of advertising supporting the diverse array of online content. And it’s true that we have tremendous content diversity and advertising plays a key role. But just as advertisers shaped radio, broadcast television and cable that helped undermine their public interest potential, we suggest that much more analysis and debate is needed to explore the ultimate impact of advertising on the future of the digital ecosystem.

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A thoughtful response to the IAB

Steve Rappaport, co-author of The Online Advertising Playbook: Proven Strategies and Tested Tactics from the Advertising Research Foundation, wrote the following comment to Randall Rothenberg’s Huffington Post piece. In our view, Mr. Rappaport’s analysis and measured tone is exactly how online ad industry leaders should respond to the growing debate on privacy and consumer protection. Mr. Rappaport wrote that:

“I work in the advertising industry, have written a book on online advertising (The Online Advertising Playbook), am acquainted with Randy and Prof. Turow (I like them both), and am expressing my personal views. They are not those of my employer or anyone else. Please, hold them harmless.
Regarding issues of targeting, privacy and security online, it’s the duty of academics and public interest organizations to question, and to question practices. In my book’s section on behavioral targeting I brought up Prof. Turow’s argument concluding that it was important and that the industry should consider it, not to reject behavioral targeting, but to think about it in a more nuanced way so that marketers can benefit their brands and consumers. While writing, drafts of chapters were sent to highly regarded industry folks. Not one questioned the inclusion of that passage.
While Turow is portrayed as an enemy of advertising, the truth is that we have bold people in the advertising industry itself who raise similar questions – see Matt Creamer’s article in the special digital issue of Ad Age from March (“Think different: the web’s not a place to stick your ads”). And none other than Tim Berners-Lee, the putative father of the web, is raising concerns about online tracking. The internet is all about throwing light on topics and having lively discussions that work towards a resolution, which was nearly impossible just 10 or 15 years ago. We’re better for it. We should encourage it, not quash it.”

Those mobile devices will be watching you–and telling you what you would like (even on other screens)

As part of our public service to the FTC, esp. in light of its upcoming town hall, we submit some excerpts from io global. This company “provides the software and services to enable Network Operators, Media Brands and Advertisers to collaborate in a trading model to personalize and monetize their interactions with individuals on the run.” They explain to potential advertisers that “the io global ltd -enabled device learns what your consumer cares about most. Which TV shows and movies she likes. Her favorite music and games. Where she travels. What news, entertainment or other services she prefers. This rich, detailed data creates an accurate profile of this single customer for powerful target marketing. Then io global ltd uses this learning to serve up her preferred content. It’s in this friendly “opt-in” environment that your brand and messaging is delivered… In addition, io global ltd moves seamlessly from the mobile device to engage the consumer on her PC and her TV.”

European Privacy Officials investigate behavioral targeting & data mining

Just to place the privacy and online marketing debate in better perspective. It is appropriate and necessary for lawmakers and policymakers to examine and then address through rules the impact of new technologies on privacy. The Article 29 Working Party, the EU’s data protection review group, adopted as part of its 2008-2009 work plan to help ensure “data protection in relation to new technologies.” Among the areas they are now examining include: “search engines, on-line social networks (especially for children and teenagers), behavioural profiling, data mining, [and] digital broadcasting” (they are also focusing on ICANN and WHOIS). Direct Marketing is being reviewed as well.

Our point here is that the online industry has largely developed its system of data collection without user permission largely in the absence of thoughtful oversight that would ensure privacy. We believe the process underway in the EU will help address this issue in a meaningful way.