UK Ad Leader: “Future of Advertising” will be the “Mapping” of our Brains

excerpt from The Guardian:  “Robin Wight…is president of the Engine Group, which encompasses 13 media businesses…the future for advertising isn’t just about building organisations; for Wight it is also about brain science. He is zealous, fanatical even, about the potential of mapping brains in greater detail and discovering what makes us tick. It is the “future of advertising – of everything”, he says…The theory of memes, Wight believes, is the most interesting idea of the past 50 years; and it helps to explain how ads that make an impact …

“It’s still controversial but in the future we’ll find little synaptic connections that represent the Guardian, BMW, all these brands. You put an electrode on someone’s head and say Jennifer Aniston, for example, and one neuron fires,” Wight says. “It took 50 years after genes were conceived of to find them in the body and it may take another 50 before we find memes – but we will find little clusters, bundles of connections that represent brands.”

If we could scientifically measure which adverts worked, he says, then there wouldn’t be any need for an “avalanche of annoying ads”… Scanning brains is no different from focus grouping, he believes – just more effective. “…

“Just imagine if you could pre-test an ad and you knew it would make people happy and it would be effective…You’d only be exposed to ads that engage with you – the products that fail won’t be offered. You’re not manipulating people, you’re just measuring which particular thing has an impact.”

‘It’s the future of advertising, of everything’.  Jo Adetunji.  Guardian.  February 23, 2009

FTC’s Behavioral Ad Principles–the last act of the Bush Administration? Why is the Obama White House Allowing the FTC To Remain Under the Leadership Appointed by Pres. Bush?

In a few hours, approximately between 10-11 am eastern, the FTC is expected to release its final “Online Behavioral Advertising Principles.” Originally released for comment in December 2007, the principles are a sort of Valentine’s Day present to the online ad industry from the (supposedly departed) Bush Administration.  From what we know, the FTC principles support self-regulation.  Online marketers will be told they should behave better–and here are suggestions.  It’s like a teacher telling a misbehaving student–‘behave better, dear,’ or else we will have to tell your parent (in this case, the guardian being potential congressional action).

My CDD urged Commissioners Harbour and Leibowitz to issue separate statements on the principles, and call for tougher requirements—especially in the area of so-called sensitive information.  This would include data connected to our financial and health related online activities (think mortgage and loan applications or queries for prescription drugs).  CDD and a coalition of groups also formally asked the commission to impose serious privacy safeguards for both children and adolescents.

But these principles were crafted within the narrow confines of the Bush Administration philosophy prevailing at the FTC.  Only self-regulation is permitted.  Consequently, such an approach likely means these rules leave the online data collection, profiling and targeted marketing system which comprise behavioral marketing off the privacy protection hook.

But one question looms at the moment.  Why has the new Obama administration allowed the FTC to remain under the leadership of Bush-appointee William E. Kovacic? The principles being issued today, in fact, reflect the “old” FTC, not one run under the philosophy of President Obama.  Why is the Obama White House failing to ensure a change of leadership at the FTC?  The agency is responsible for overseeing a huge portion of the economy, including critical financial issues.  It’s also supposed to be the leading agency on consumer protection issues.   The Obama White House should have–by now-found someone who would led the FTC, so it can better protect the public.

The principles being released today were only made possible because of the Bush FTC give-away to Google, when it approved its takeover of online ad giant DoubleClick.  CDD, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and USPIRG fought the merger, including on privacy grounds.  FTC Commissioner Pamela Harbour played a key role forcing the agency (then run by Chairwoman Majoris, whose husband’s law firm represented DoubleClick) to address the privacy concerns. As a consequence of the political pressure from its failure to seriously examine the consumer privacy issues of the Google deal, the FTC staff were told to develop these principles.

The next chair of the FTC needs to take privacy and online consumer protection issues seriously.  The agency does need more resources, but also a new spirit.  If the FTC had been on the job, and was examining how lending institutions were recklessly promoting loans and mortgages, maybe today’s mess wouldn’t be as tragic as it is.  More to come after the commission releases the principles.

The “Revised” Network Advertising Initiative Principles: Ghost-written by Bernard Madoff?

That was really what we felt reading the “NAI Response to Public Comments” released yesterday.  It accompanied the 2008 principles announcement by the self-regulatory trade online marketing trade group.  The “response” is worth reading, because it really reveals the inability of the group to meaningfully address how to protect consumers online.  You would think that an organization which has Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Time Warner and many others as paying members could at least clearly state what happens to our data in the online marketing process.  But the real goal of the NAI is to prevent the enactment of serious state and federal privacy policies that would protect consumers. My group put out a statement yesterday discussing the new principles.

The credibility of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Time Warner are at stake.  They should be able to ensure that their own organization can honestly address the implications of online advertising.  But it’s time to abandon any call for self-regulation.  That has been a failure.  It’s clear that a growing number of consumer and privacy groups are calling for a legislative solution, as well as a more effective FTC.  Responsible online ad companies will support such regulation.

New AT&T-funded “Future of Privacy” Group: Will it Support Real Privacy Protection or Serve as a Surrogate for Self-regulation and Data Collection?

A new group co-directed by former DoubleClick and AOL chief privacy officer Jules Polonetsky, called the “Future of Privacy Forum,” has been announced. It is connected to the law firm representing AT&T–Proskauer Rose–which has a considerable practice in the online marketing and data collection area. Other backers include Intel, General Electric, IBM and Wal-Mart.

We are concerned, however, that the role of the Forum is to help discourage Congress from enacting an opt-in regime for data collection. Both ISPs–such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner–as well as online advertising companies such as Google/DoubleClick, Yahoo, and Microsoft must be governed by privacy laws which empower and protect consumers. The role of ISPs in any data collection for targeted online marketing, in particular, requires serious analysis and stringent safeguards. AT&T, Google, Microsoft, Comcast, the online ad networks, and social media marketers (to name a few) must be required to provide meaningful disclosure, transparency, accountability and user control (with special rules governing health, financial and data involving children and youth). Self-regulation has failed. If the Future of Privacy group is to have any legitimacy, it will work to support serious federal rules. But if it trots out some sort of voluntary code of conduct as a way to undermine the growing call for real privacy safeguards, this new group may soon be viewed as beholden to its funders and backers.

Google’s Net Vision: “take the TV experience and provide it on the Web”

As online advertising companies such as Google import the TV ad model into the online experience, what will be the consequences: to content diversity, public interest programming, sustainable lifestyles, etc.? We have our own opinion, and it should be part of a growing debate on the future of the digital media system. Here’s a glimpse of Google’s vision and its new “Branded Entertainment” division, via an article in Fast Company [November 2008]. Our bold.

excerpt: [Seth] MacFarlane’s management team went out and signed him up with Google. The resulting “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy”…shorts are also distributed in an innovative way: targeting young males where they lurk by popping up in ad windows on sites such as and (while simultaneously appearing on YouTube). “The idea is not to drive someone to a Web site but to make content available wherever the audience will be,” explains Dan Goodman, president of digital at MRC [Media Rights Capital]… MacFarlane’s status as an equity partner in the deal entitles him to split the ad revenue with Google and MRC…MRC provides the funding and sells the ad partnerships, MacFarlane provides the content, and Google serves as distribution outlet, providing the “broadcast” via its AdSense network. Then all three split the proceeds…Each Cavalcade short carries a single advertiser. The first 10 were bought by Burger King…

For Burger King, the appeal was obvious. “Seth’s fan base intersects squarely with our audience of young men and women,” says Brian Gies, vice president of marketing impact for Burger King. In other words, MacFarlane’s comedy provides a very powerful and friendly connection to a very targeted audience, one that tends to get the munchies. Says Google’s Levy: “We know where to find them, and we’re putting the advertising in an environment they’re comfortable in.”

“The idea is to take the TV experience and provide it on the Web,” says Alex Levy, Google’s director of branded entertainment. “But brought to the people you want to reach, when, where, and how you want to reach them.” For a company that likes to say it’s not in the content business, that’s a remarkable statement. Google, in essence, is trying to use its ad-distribution network to turn content distribution upside down.”

Seth MacFarlane’s $2 Billion Family Guy Empire. Josh Dean. Fast Company. Oct. 13, 2008

Google, the Global Youth Obesity Crisis & its “Branded Entertainment” Division Deals with Pepsi and Burger King

Google’s top executives and corporate-responsibility concerned investors should consider the consequences of the online ad company’s major promotion of Burger King and Pepsi. Google is broadly distributing two new online programming series backed by either Burger King and Pepsi via its “branded entertainment” division. A new Pepsi-backed show called Poptub, notes, “resides on its own YouTube channel and is distributed through Google AdSense (via “Gadgets” or widgets), increasing the number of eyeballs for potential advertisers. Ad revenue will be split between Google, Pepsi-backed Embassy Row, and the website that hosted the clip.” CNET reports that Poptub features “perky hosts, amusing videos, promotional interviews, and a prominent Pepsi sponsorship.”

Google’s Burger King backed “Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” is a huge online hit, Mediaweek reports. The YouTube based series “generated 14 million total views since their Sept. 9 debut across various syndication partners…One short, Super Mario Rescues The Princess, has amassed over 6 million views on YouTube alone…the Cavalcade channel was YouTube’s most popular during the week ending Sept. 12, generating millions of views in less than 48 hours… The first 10 of the MacFarlane-produced shorts are being sponsored by Burger King. The fast food company’s branded channel,, is now the second most popular sponsored channel of all time on YouTube.”

Hollywood Reporter explains that “Over at Burger King’s YouTube channel, a new application allows consumers to dub their voices in over the animation of select “Cavalcade” videos.”

Google role as a facilitator of unhealthy food products will become part of the global youth obesity and public health debate.

Behavioral Targeters Use Our Online Data to Track Our Actions and, They Say, to “Automate Serendipity.” Attention: FTC, Congress, EU, State AG’s, and Everyone Else Who Cares About Consumer Welfare (let alone issues related to public health and ethics!)

NPR’s On the Media co-host and Ad Age columnist Bob Garfield provides policymakers and advocates with an arsenal of new material that support the passage of digital age consumer protection laws. In his Ad Age essay [“Your Data With Destiny.” sub required], Garfield has this incredibly revealing–and disturbing–quote from behavioral targeting industry leader Dave Morgan (Tacoda) [our emphasis]:

“Now we have the ability to automate serendipity,” says Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, the behavioral-marketing firm sold to AOL in 2007 for a reported $275 million. “Consumers may know things they think they want, but they don’t know for sure what they might want.”

Garfield writes that “In 2006 Tacoda did a project for Panasonic in which it scrutinized the online behavior of millions of internet users — not a sample of 1,200 subjects to project a result against the whole population within a statistical margin of error; this was actual millions. Then it broke down that population’s surfing behavior according to 400-some criteria: media choices, last site visited, search terms, etc. It then ranked all of those behaviors according to correlation with flat-screen-TV purchase…“We no longer have to rely on old cultural prophecies as to who is the right consumer for the right message,” Morgan says. “It no longer has to be microsample-based [à la Nielsen or Simmons]. We now have [total-population] data, and that changes everything. With [those] data, you can know essentially everything. You can find out all the things that are nonintuitive or counterintuitive that are excellent predictors. … There’s a lot of power in that.”

There’s more in the piece, including what eBay is doing. As the annual Advertising Week fest begins in New York, we hope the leaders of the ad industry will take time to reflect on what they are creating. You cannot have a largely invisible system which tracks and analyzes our online and interactive behaviors and relationships, and then engages in all manner of stealth efforts to get individuals (including adolescents and kids) to act, think or feel in some desired way. Such a system requires rules which make the transaction entirely transparent and controlled by the individual. The ad industry must show some responsibility here.

Google Pushes Junk Food via Burger King Online “Branded Content” ‘Toon Deal [Do a Search for Obesity Crisis and Search Engines]

Google will launch tomorrow a new online series sponsored by Burger King that features “animated webisodes” created by Seth MacFarlane (of Fox’s “The Family Guy”). Google will be promoting the series via its YouTube service as well as on its Adsense Content Network. Burger King gets its logo and mascot in a spot. Google says, notes one online publication, that its Adsense network will only target “18 to 34” year old men. The same report explained that “Burger King gets a direct line into its consumers, who find these nuggets of entertainment where Google might otherwise post ads. Google says this is its biggest-ever deal using the Google Ad Network to distribute and monetize content. I spoke to Alexandra Levy, the director of Google’s relatively new Branded Entertainment division. The idea is that Google has all this inventory and access and branded entertainment may prove a more compelling way to communicate an advertiser’s message.”

For the folks at Google to empower Burger King ads during the current youth obesity crisis is poor judgement on its part. Google isn’t alone, however. Microsoft, Yahoo and others are also backing the digital targeting of young people with unhealthy food and beverage products. Google should think more carefully about the consequences to the nation’s health from the products it promotes (and also consider what will eventually happen to its brand reputation).

The IAB (US) “mobilizes” to Fight Against Consumer Protections for Online Media

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.

IAB’s Lobbying Against Privacy Safeguards: Trade Group Will Add New Members to Help Fight Consumer Protection Legislation

The trade lobbying group Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) plans to add new members to help it generate “grassroots support against proposed legislation in New York and Connecticut that would ban the collection of data about online consumers without a person’s specific consent.” According to ClickZ, the IAB will create a new low-dues membership structure which will enable smaller online advertisers to swell its ranks. What is IAB’s pitch to its prospective members about privacy safeguards offered by state legislators in New York and Connecticut? ClickZ says that “[T]he IAB contends that the proposed measures would have a disproportionate negative impact on small publishers that rely on ad networks to manage advertising sales.”

The IAB’s leadership is off on a irresponsible mission to persuade online marketers and the public that privacy rules would “kill the web.” Such an self-serving view of why privacy rules are required in the age of online marketing will only further diminish the credibility of the IAB.