"The Debate" is a column focused on the current debate around ad targeting and consumer privacy.
Today's article is written by Amiad Solomon, Founder & President, Peer39.
From the inception of the internet, online advertisers have been continuously experimenting with methods of targeting ads, in search of a technology that delivers a brand’s ideal audience, at scale. Over the past few years, marketers have become enamored with behavioral targeting, which utilizes consumer activity and preferences to serve ads that are relevant to the individual. However, while behavioral has gained acceptance among media buyers, and has achieved notable success, it has also opened the door for an ardent global campaign for the protection of user privacy.
In the US, the FTC, along with consumer advocacy groups, has demanded that behavioral targeting technologies curtail their use of consumer data. These groups argue that cookie-based targeting technologies traverse privacy concerns because users are not aware of the data that is collected from their online behavior.
Last month, a trio of lawyers wrote an article for this publication criticizing privacy groups for protesting behavioral targeting. The authors posit that behavioral is an innovative breakthrough, and that “the complainants seem upset that we've just gotten increasingly good at [ad targeting].” (View the article here.)
Yet, while clearly cookie-based targeting is a beneficial targeting technique, at times it can be frustrating and ineffective for consumers. The article gives an example of a user browsing travel sites extensively to plan a family vacation. If that user is tagged as a travel intender, he or she may see travel-related ads for weeks after the trip is booked, and even after it has ended. There are two problems that arise in this case. One, any travel ad that appears in this scenario would be a wasted impression, and irrelevant to the user. Two, the overabundance of misdirected travel ads may lead to missed opportunities for more appropriate marketing messages to be delivered at the right time and context.
In other words, the problem isn’t that ad targeting is too good; the problem is that it’s not good enough. Ad targeting is a process, not a place, and what drives that process is innovation. Marketers need sophisticated tools to meet their metrics. Ultimately, the issues with privacy should not be what bother marketers, but rather the missed opportunity for better audience targeting. The industry’s best response to the concerns of the FTC is the constant improvement, refinement, and development of innovative targeting technologies that complement each other and drive great results.