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/Verizon Deal: will increase “Google’s stranglehold on the mobile search market”

That quote in the headline comes from a new analyst note written by ad agency Avenue A/Razorfish. It explains [our emphasis] that: “[T]he deal will most certainly increase Google’s stranglehold on the mobile search market, and will be another blow to Yahoo and Microsoft, who are rapidly losing browser search share as well. Google currently owns 61% of the mobile search market, and already has deals in place with Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. A deal with Verizon would give the search engine access to the current no. 2 wireless provider – but soon to be no. 1 once Verizon’s acquisition of Alltel closes.”

Regulators need to examine this deal on both competition and privacy grounds. The current review of the Google/Yahoo combination underway by the Department of Justice would be remiss if it didn’t address the mobile marketing issues. After all, Yahoo! mobile is a significant part of that company’s ad serving business. We still want to know whether Google will also be serving up mobile ads on Yahoo! as part of its forthcoming alliance.
source: Issue No 112 | August 27, 2008. SMTrends. Ave A/Razorfish.

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.

ATT: DoJ, EC and Congress: Yahoo!’s own claims should raise alarms about a Google or Microsoft deal

No one should sit by and let either Google or Microsoft carve-up or take-over Yahoo! without a serious examination of the competition, privacy, and other consumer protection issues. This week, Yahoo! ran a four-page ad inserted in Advertising Age. Here’s some of Yahoo!’s own copy for regulators and the public to ponder:

“Yahoo! delivers the largest audience in the U.S.-the most 18-34 year olds, the most 35-54 year olds, the most women….Today, Yahoo! reaches over half the world’s Internet users. And with our growing network of premium publishing partners, including over 625 leading newspapers, we’re working with the other half…Our insights and understanding of our users lead to smarter targeting, so we can connect the right audience with the most relevant message–yours…With more ways to connect to your customers more deeply than ever, the future is wide open.”

From Yahoo! Advertising Age insertion. June 2. 2008 entitled: “What Happens When You Can Connect To More Than 550 million People From Over 170 countries Who Spend 2 Billion Hours Each Month In One Place?”

Digital Marketers Plans for China Emblematic of Global Ambitions

We view the rush to advance digital marketing in China as a key example of how the forces of interactive advertising are being deployed globally. China is more than a “test-bed” for broadband and mobile advertising campaigns, given the growth of its Internet connected population. But we should be concerned about the impact of such marketing campaigns. Here’s an excerpt from a story appearing in Advertising Age China on Procter and Gamble’s (P&G) work there:

“The battleground now is branded entertainment and media innovation,” said Alfonso de Dios, P&G’s Guangzhou-based associate director for media in Greater China. “Globally, we are focusing on digital marketing to build long term and meaningful consumer relationships. We’ve escalated the spending and the quality of what we do online.”

That means going beyond web pages to internet protocol TV, known as IPTV, as well as mobile phones, social networks, search marketing and other high-tech applications. China has become a “learning lab in an ecosystem of providers and platforms,” he said. “We’re following a directive set by [P&G’s Global Marketing Officer] Jim Stengel, who wants the company to go beyond telling and selling, i.e. the 30″ spot, and go towards building more meaningful consumer relationships.”

source: China is P&G learning lab. Normandy Madden. Ad Age China. June 2008 [sub required]

Google Opens its Network to 3rd Party Ad Servers, but Fails to Candidly Address the Privacy Issues

Google announced Tuesday that it [our emphasis] “is accepting third-party advertising tags on the Google content network in North America. This will empower advertisers to work with approved third parties to serve and track display ads, including rich media ads, across the Google content network through AdWords, giving them more options, flexibility and control over their campaigns.” Among the companies it lists that can track us through the Google network includes its own DoubleClick, as well as Eyeblaster, Eyewonder, Pointroll, Unicast, Dynamic Logic, and Interpolls.

Google has created a three-part video series on YouTube to “explain” how ad serving works. But like so much of Google’s privacy PR, it doesn’t really explain what the goals are of its expanded ad service. It also attempts to minimize the very real privacy concerns. Google uses its online ad industry Orwellian-like Doublespeak to suggest that the profiling and targeting of users is “enhancing their web experience.” Google could have included in its YouTube script what it is telling prospective YouTube ad sales persons: “that Google technology enables the world’s biggest advertisers to enjoy immediate and accountable communication with the consumer…to drive revenue… to top-tier brand advertisers and agencies…[via]… a next-generation advertising platform.” It could have said that its expanded online ad platform was designed, as its job announcement for a New York-based “Google Financial Services Account Executive” states, to help “the biggest financial services companies in the world. This includes investment, credit card, tax, banking and insurance companies.” Or as it explains in its “Google entertainment account executive” job announcement, “you’ll help to provide integrated, cross-platform advertising solutions for media and entertainment clients including TV, movie, gaming, music and web publishing companies.”

Google’s blog announcement for the opening up of its network to 3rd party ad servers, and its three-part series, could have detailed the range of data being collected and tracked by its DoubleClick and now other companies. That would include DoubleClick’s “Rich Media’s Audience Interaction Metrics package,” which “lets you analyze data on more than 100 unique interactions in every creative unit including multiple exit links, counters, timers and video metrics.” Or Eyeblaster’s “advanced …powerful tracking and optimization capabilities” that examine “unique viewer behavior– why look at impressions and clicks when you can look at the behavior of individual customers.” Or Unicast’s “User Engagement Index (UEI), that measures a user’s interaction with a rich media ad and provides a score made up of key engagement metrics.” Or what its now 3rd party approved from Eyewonder collects, such as “track all video interactions, rich media interactions, brand interactions and time, and …Custom tracking… to also measure metrics critical to your specific campaign.”

Google really requires both a privacy and online marketing ombudsman, to say the least. They have a very hard time being straight-forward about what information about us is being collected, how it’s really used, etc. Perhaps independent observers and consumer advocates whose mission is to help the company be more honest with itself, its employees, and its users would help. Meanwhile, we will just have to help regulators, policymakers, and the public better understand what Google isn’t really telling us.

PS: This announcement also has implications for mobile privacy. We think this quote from Mobile Marketer is very telling (hey, Google. Put him on your GoogTube channel!): “As mobile advertising evolves and matures, advertisers will demand consistent, in-depth analytics and immersive consumer engagement frameworks,” Mr. Rahav said [Amit Rahav, VP, Marketing, Eyeblaster]. “…To be able to retain client confidence and quality of user experience, Google defined a process for certifying trusted partners like Eyeblaster and other companies. Defining such rules of engagement creates the win-win ecosystem that helped scale Web advertising and stands to do the same for the mobile world.”

PPS: Perhaps Google should have addressed this, from its new 3rd Party approved partner Interpolls: “Interpolls is the only rich media company providing a complete end-to-end suite of integrated marketing solutions. In addition to rich media advertising, Interpolls provides clients with interactive promotions, live on-air voting, site polling, online sweepstakes and more. All of Interpolls services can be integrated into its proprietary platform, offering customers tremendous convenience while maximizing reach, awareness and results. “Expanding our distribution network to include the Google content network was a critical piece needed to provide our clients with the industry’s largest rich media distribution to reach their customers and prospects without limitations,” said Peter Kim, CEO and president, Interpolls. “The agreement opens the door for our clients to increase their distribution through the Google content network, and provides Google publishers and advertisers access to our innovative rich media advertising and widget solutions.”

PPPS (and we promise this is the last one!). Google also announced that several research firms were now allowed to work with its network and, we assume, help “measure performance” of Internet ads. They include Dynamic Logic, IAG Research, InsightExpress, and FactorTG. For example, IAG (now owned by Nielsen) says it “is the only panel-based measurement service that provides continuous evaluation of Internet ad performance and a direct comparison to TV ad effectiveness.” In another words, to help grow Google’s ad business it has, understandably, opened up its service to the network of tracking, analysis, and interactive media delivery services which comprise the world of marketing. But, we believe, Google should have explained all this clearly to users, and not–in our view–gloss over what this all means.

Microsoft pitches interactive ad and branding “integrated campaigns… that don’t necessarily feel like campaigns”

Microsoft is holding its annual meeting with advertisers, to show off what it can do. We will have more to say about it, but for now ponder this from Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s President, Entertainment and Devices Division:

“We think there are screens and areas beyond the browser for people to reach. We think you can reach them, whether it’s on a PC, on a TV, or on mobile devices. We think there are integrated campaigns that can be built, that don’t necessarily feel like campaigns, and that don’t necessarily feel like advertising, in a world in which people want to be entertained.”

The Shopping Cart Tells You What To Buy–and knows if you did!

Just when consumers tighten their wallets and purses, a new system emerges that will use data collected from us to target us while we shop in grocery stores. Here’s an excerpt from MediaCart’s pitch to advertisers:
“With MediaCart, consumer product brand marketers can deliver full-motion video advertising to shoppers as they approach various product locations in the store – whether walking down an aisle, approaching an end cap or standing at the checkout.

Direct One-to-One Ad Targeting. By collecting shoppers’ preferences through loyalty card information, prior shopping history, geographic locations and shopping times, advertisers are able to channel valuable communications to individual shoppers and deliver a powerful visual message right at the point of purchase.

Tracking Your Advertising Investment. The MediaCart® system tracks each cart’s location, dwell time, and shoppers’ purchases. This information will give valuable feedback on shoppers’ responses to alternative ads, offers, displays or message frequency. Advertisers are able to measure the true impact, quickly determine what is most effective, and adjust advertising messages and promotional offers as quickly as sending an email.”

Microsoft, by the way, is working with them. Be sure to see the picture of the cart on the press release.

Verizon Research: Mobile Banner Ads work as well as TV spots producing brand recall

As part of our work covering mobile marketing, we will post relevant information to foster discussion and debate. Mobile communications will bring a profound change in how we live our lives. How we engage with our communities and social networks, let alone with brands and ads, will be greatly influence by mobile technologies. We need to try and create the mobile media “ecosystem” in a way which strengthens democracy, protects privacy, encourages innovation and fosters commercial growth. Here’s an excerpt from Online Media Daily:

“On average, small banner ads on mobile devices produce the same level of brand recall as the typical 30-second TV spot, according to Stephanie Bauer Marshall, the mobile advertising leader for Verizon Wireless… “The banner ads work really well, and that’s where you have the greatest reach”…they were on par with TV spots in terms of brand recall….Mobile banner ads also produce click-through rates that are “exponentially higher than online” banner ads…Verizon has commissioned brand recall studies…”

Mobile Banner Ads Have Same Brand Recall As TV Spots. Eris Sass. OnlIne Media Daily. May 15, 2008 [reg required and well worth it]