It’s too disquieting a time in the U.S. to dismiss what a lobbyist for the Interactive Advertising Bureau said as merely silly. The IAB lobbyist is quoted in today’s Washington Post saying: “If Congress required ‘opt in’ today, Congress would be back in tomorrow writing an Internet bailout bill. Every advertising platform and business model would be put at risk.” [reg. required]
Why is the IAB afraid of honest consumer disclosure and consumer control? If online ad leaders can’t imagine a world where the industry still makes lots of money–while simultaneously respecting consumer privacy–perhaps they should choose another profession (say investment banking!).
Seriously, online ad leaders need to acknowledge that reasonable federal rules are required that safeguard consumers (with meaningful policies especially protecting children and adolescents, as well as adult financial, health, and political data). The industry doesn’t need a bail-out. But its leaders should `opt-in’ to a responsible position for online consumer privacy protection.
Deep packet inspection and other online marketing techniques are not the only privacy concerns with digital media. So are, in my opinion, the evolving world of more precisely targeted and viewer tracking television ads. Here’s an excerpt from today’s MediaDailyNews on advances in interactive television:
“… a leading developer has created an open standard that will enable advertisers and agencies to easily and seamlessly integrate any method they use to target TV viewers, and then have those ads served to specific dayparts, programming genres, geographic zones, or even individual households. The breakthrough…allows advertisers to utilize any source of data they use to define their consumer targets, and then have those ads served to any platform capable of delivering targeted TV advertising, including…broadband, as well as household-specific addressable television outlets…
…Visible World is disclosing deals with both Acxiom and Experian, two of the leading sources of data used by agencies to target consumers across media, but… the system will easily port data from virtually any source…and… is capable of serving TV ads to as “granular” a target as an advertiser can define…”
source: Addressable TV Ad Developer Hits Target, Creates Open Standard For Advertisers. Joe Mandese. MediaDailyNews. Aug 21, 2008.
Watch this online video of Randall Rothenberg speaking before a June Federated Media Publishing event. In Mr. Rothenberg’s worldview, demon critics of advertising (such as myself) are deliberately trying to undermine democratic digital media. This would be absurd, if it wasn’t so sad. Mr. Rothenberg is using scare tactics to whip up his members into a frenzy-all so they can fight off laws and regulations designed to provide consumers real control over their data and information. Luckily, Mr. Rothenberg will be on the losing side of this battle to protect consumers in the digital era. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic understand how the digital marketing ecosystem raises serious concerns about privacy and consumer welfare. We have to say we are disappointed in John Battelle, the CEO of Federated (who wrote a very good book entitled The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture). Mr. Battelle should know that the online marketing system requires a series of safeguards which protects citizens and consumers. There is a balance to be struck here. Online advertisers have unleashed some of the most powerful tools designed to track, analyze, and target individuals–whether on social networks, or watching broadband video, or using mobile devices. We have never said there shouldn’t be advertising. We understand the important role it must play, including for the underwriting of online content. But the online ad system should not be designed and controlled solely by ad networks, online publishers, trade groups and online ad lobbying groups. It must be structured in a way which promotes as much freedom for individuals.
Officials need to examine the recent deals made both by Google and Yahoo! with advertising agency powerhouses, Publicis and WPP, respectfully. The Google/Yahoo! combine reduces competition in the online ad sector, and these agreements need to be part of the analysis. Google and Publicis completed their deal last January “based on a shared vision of how new technologies can be used to improve advertising.” Last month, Yahoo! and WPP formed a â€œmulti-year strategic partnership” that is connected to the online ad trading Right Media Exchange.
Search should not be considered a “natural monopoly,” as some cynics suggest. Nor should search by viewed as separate from display; increasingly the two are intertwined. Marketers desire cross-platform strategies. Perhaps that’s one reason Google is hiring cross-platform ad specialists. To quote from a Google job posting: “The Cross Platform Solutions team forms partnerships with advertisers and agencies to build brands online. We strive to deliver the most efficient and effective digital platform upon which the worldâ€™s leading brands are built. We connect advertiserâ€™s brand messages to their target audience through innovative, precise and accountable online marketing solutions whose reach can extend around the world.”
It’s hard to keep up with the online ad world, so it’s not surprising that regulators have been slow to address the critical consumer and competition issues. But much is at stake in how diverse and consumer-friendly the new media world will become. That’s why the DoJ and the Hill need to look at these ad agency deals, among other issues we will discuss soon.Â Btw, privacy is a serious issue in the deal, no matter how Yahoo! may be spinning it.
The government must take swift action to prevent the creation of a digital combine that merges assets and services of the first and second leading online search advertising companiesâ€”Google and Yahoo!
Google is the countryâ€™s (and worldâ€™s) leading search firm. Yahoo is ranked number two and says it is the foremost online display advertising company. This combination potentially threatens user privacy, as more data (including behavioral and mobile) about consumers are shared or pooled by the two leading online giants. Competition in the online ad sectorâ€”already weakened by a series of takeovers and acquisitionsâ€”is seriously threatened. This deal will have a significant impact on the advertising industry, including agencies. Both Google and Yahoo also provide critical search advertising services for many of the nationâ€™s leading newspapers. Congress will need to explore how this deal impacts journalism, especially at a crucial marketplace juncture for the traditional media industries. Yahoo is permitting Google to extend its reach into one its significant assets–paid search. Shareholders will also suffer, as Yahoo! will be viewed by advertisers as a less effective means to target consumers.
Statement on behalf of the Center for Digital Democracy
Regulators will need to examine the privacy implications of the new Yahoo and WPP alliance. When the display ad leader–Yahoo--links up with the global ad agency holding company powerhouse–WPP--data collection issues must come to the fore. Under the deal, explains Reuters, “WPP advertising agencies would, through its 24/7 Real Media arm, develop a proprietary advertising media trading platform that takes advantage of Yahoo’s Right Media exchange.” WPP’s “brands” include Ogilvy, Cheskin, Dentsu Y&R and many, many others.
WPP’s 24/7 says the following about its “comprehensive” targeting:
“Whoever you want to reach, we have targeting down to a science.
- Behavioural. We can serve ads based on your customerâ€™s browsing behaviour.
- Demographic. We can target campaigns based on a number of demographic criteria such as race, age, income, sex, employment, education, and home ownership.
- Technographic. We can target based on browser, browser version, bandwith or operating system.
- Retargeting. We can flag visitors to a site based on what they did on their last visit, and then â€œretarget themâ€ when they return.
- Geo-dem. We can overlay geographic data such as country, state or zip code with demographic information.
- Daypart. You can tell us what hour of the day or day of the week that youâ€™d like an ad to be viewed.
- Content. You can choose specific sites, sections or positions on a page for ad placement.
- Keyword/search. We can serve ads based on specific words that are entered into a search engine by your customer.
- Custom. We can develop a comprehensive targeting strategy that is customised for whatever your marketing goal may be.”
Mind over our data: It was 24/7 that just announced it was also using “psychographic targeting through a partnership with Mindset Media…[that] 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.”
From MediaPost’s coverage (excerpt):Â “ The multi-year deal will pair Yahoo’s Right Media ad exchange with the targeting prowess of WPP’s 24/7 Real Media, giving WPP agencies a more effective system for buying mass quantities of display inventory worldwide… WPP’s GroupM…will be able to access the platform directly through 24/7 Real Media and plug in various targeting options-… Ryan Jamboretz, director of corporate development at GroupM…said “[T]his only improves the product by allowing us to do things like behavioral and retargeting on a larger scale.”
source:Â Yahoo, WPP Partner to Buy, Sell Rich Media More Effectively. Â Tameka Kee.Â Online Media Daily. May 15,2008.
Former journalist and now online ad industry lobbyist Randall Rothenberg, in a BusinessWeek commentary, suggests that the call for privacy rules ensuring individuals have control over their data will undermine the Internet. You would think a Madison Ave. trade group could craft more creative PR copy. But the online ad industry’s position is indefensible, since they built a system based on the harvesting of our information without believing they would need to get our permission first. The IAB board should realize it has embarked on a very dangerous campaign here that will undermine credibility for many marketers. Here’s my response submitted to BusinessWeek:
Mr. Rothenberg, as head of the interactive ad trade group lobbying against the call from consumer groups for the government to protect personal privacy online, fails to address the central question regarding online advertising. The call for regulation is designed to ensure individuals control their data while on the Internet or using their mobile phonesâ€”not companies such as Google, Microsoft, and AOL. Public interest groups are not opposed to interactive marketing: indeed, we recognize it as a key source of funds for online publishing. But Mr. Rothenbergâ€™s members have created a commercial surveillance system that rivals the NSAâ€”tracking and analyzing our every move while on the Internet, all so we can be encouraged to behave favorably to some marketing message. Responsible ad industry leaders will seriously address the privacy threats created by the interactive marketing apparatusâ€”and not hide behind self-serving claims that unless our privacy is lost, we wonâ€™t have a robust digital medium.
From an interview published March 17, 2008, via paidcontent.org, with Ogilvy’s chief digital officer (excerpt): “Google and DoubleClick have been partners with Ogilvy for a long time. Half of our clients are on DoubleClick ad serving platform and obviously, weâ€™re buying a lot of media from Google, in the form of keywords. So both continue to be key partners to Ogilvy – as are Yahoo and MSN. From an industry dynamic, itâ€™s going to be interesting to see how Google can leverage the data that DoubleClick has and combine that with the search data to further optimize the display media.”