Optimize For The Consumer

In 1979 I predicted in Media Science Newsletter that television and computers would evolve into advertising media where individuals could be reached with addressable ad messages that were so relevant the recipients would be grateful and would supply information to help achieve that relevancy. In the 90s I spearheaded the effort to create privacy principles through the CASIE committee that was formed by ANA, AAAA and ARF, and warned in my newsletter that if the ad industry veered from these principles, they would destroy addressable commercials.

The rest is history. As an industry, we let a few who had a bad attitude toward privacy contaminate the whole idea of targeting. On March 8, 2011 David Vladeck, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, speaking at the 4As annual meeting, warned agencies that if they and the Internet media did not create a Do Not Track Registry, the government would. Even before this happened, in fear response to the ongoing Wall Street Journal series of articles, four of the largest setters of Internet cookies for the industry pulled back on setting and selling cookies to ad networks. This same WSJ series has also caused research companies to put a freeze on new initiatives for Internet measurement that could provide huge steps forward for Internet advertising value.

There is still time to save the baby. In this blogpost I suggest a way I think will work to save the day for addressable commercials as well as the Internet, in terms of privacy.

Also in the 90s, Next Century Media (which I chaired) led the way with the Addressable Advertising Coalition, a group we founded with Discovery Networks Chairman and founder John Hendricks. The top 20 agencies all joined and six of them paid voluntary dues to support the nonprofit. P&G, GM and many other advertisers joined, as did all the major cable, satellite, and set-top box companies.

We should have included more people from the Internet side, especially since that is where all the privacy gaffes were made. Again, it is not too late to turn back to the right privacy solutions — reflecting the CASIE principles of full disclosure, consumer choice, and anonymity.

As pivotal as privacy is, solving the larger issue behind privacy is the key to solving it all. The real umbrella question is: how does technology optimize the link between individual tastes and desires, and the content that is suggested to the individual based on these interests?

This larger question contains the question: What is the ideal privacy solution?

We can see in light of this hidden larger question that there is a benefit to the consumer up to a certain point, in the “push” of addressable information packets, whether they be wrapped up as commercials/ads or as Amazon book suggestions or as Pandora music suggestions, and so on.

What the consumer objects to is when the information packet turns out not to be something he/she wants, and especially when it is embarrassing or disturbing to the consumer that the advertiser has a specific image of him or her — e.g. ads related to health matters, sex, or other touchy subjects.

Next Century Media’s (NCM’s) solution was to allow ad recipients to “punish” the system for ads delivered that were not appreciated, and to request notification via ads for brands in product/service categories where the person was actively shopping. “Punishing” was by means of a Boo button that would train the system to avoid serving ads that had metatags (keywords) the same as the ads that had been booed. (There was also an Applause button which today we see widely implemented as the Like button. It is not too late to add the Boo button alongside the Like button.)

Based on the NCM solution and the principles behind it, the best of breed answer to targeting algorithms in the future will reflect the idea: Optimize for the consumer. In other words, the machine learning systems must please the consumer at all costs, even if it means not delivering some ad to some person an advertiser would have liked to reach.

As my good friend Bob DeSena points out, if we do this right there will be no conflict between optimizing for the consumer and optimizing for the advertiser.

All of this implies allowing people to choose with whom you are allowed to share their information.

This was confirmed by a Gallup study whose results were released on December 23, 2010, which found that young and affluent Internet users would rather choose the advertisers they allow to target ads at them, rather than block all such targeted ads entirely. More recently released findings from a Ball State study show the same thing, adding that the same person has entirely different views on privacy depending on the context and what the incentives are.

It also suggests that brands themselves take an active positive role in identifying themselves as the good guys in terms of privacy — so that consumers include them in the good-guy list rather than the blocked list. Doing so will build strong relationships of trust and affinity with consumers.

The best of breed way to do this is by a means we call Branded In-Context Notification. (The ANA and IAB have a similar idea they call In-Context Notification, but in that paradigm the brand is not credited with the courtesy of offering full disclosure and choice; it is not Branded. The consumer may be grateful, but doesn’t know who to thank.) Next to a banner or other display/rich media ad on the Internet picture a smaller banner that has the brand’s logo and says “Privacy click here”. When the user clicks he/she sees a page also branded by the advertiser of the adjoining ad, in which there is full disclosure of how and why data are used to try to improve experience for the consumer, how the consumer can Boo/Applaud on the specific ad, how the consumer can opt out and reasons why the consumer benefits by not opting out.

Being willing to trust a company based on little or no real information is a pervasive hesitation that is generally overcome when the company provides tangible evidence that it is a good guy. This can be done by cause marketing, true sponsorship (no hard-sell advertising)*, and as we suggest here by taking a friendly step toward the consumer on the Internet with regard to privacy: Branded In-Context Notification.

One ounce of positive emotion is worth lots of tonnage of emotionless GRPs. Beyond today’s sales there is the endless relationship with the consumer – where true economic value lies.

How would this proposed solution be better than what the government wants, namely a Do Not Track Registry? With such a Registry, consumers could just click once and resign from all addressable advertising forever; tens of millions might go this way. With our proposed solution, they would only block addressable messaging from one advertiser at a time, punishing them for mishandling the privilege of addressable targeting. The Registry would punish all advertisers for the mistakes of a few.

If we’re going to do this, the time is now, before the Do Not Track movement becomes unstoppable. Perhaps it is already too late for the Internet, but maybe there is still time to save television addressable commercials before they too come under fire.

Also, let's stop calling them consumers — they are us,  just people. It will be more conducive to establishing the kind of relationship we want to have with them to think of them simply as people and not as things that consume our products.

This Branded In-Context Notification solution can also work on TV. When an addressable commercial is shown on TV, assuming it is in a system that also supports interactivity, there can be a banner across the bottom of the commercial throughout its duration which says (let’s assume it’s a Sam Adams commercial sent only to beer purchasing homes) “Sam Adams wants to protect your privacy – click Select for details”. Viewers clicking Select (or whatever button is assigned) telescope to a video where possible or to a still text frame where necessary.

Needs to be tested to see what the effect is on purchasing. It could be that even viewers who miss almost all of the commercial still increase purchasing as result of increased trust and affinity for the brand.

Let’s bring back the promise of addressable commercials, and solve the privacy challenge once and for all, by total ethical proactive transparency with audiences. That was the concept all along.

Key Takeaways:

  • The addressable ad recipient should be so grateful for the targeted message that he or she would not say “take me off list” to the sender.
  • Your brand should become a source that they trust to send content of interest to them specifically.
  • To achieve this informed relevancy, in addition to knowing the anonymous ID’s purchase behavior so you know if you want to reach them, you need to know that ID’s interests so you can optimize the content you send them.

Best to all,

Bill

*In the December 2006 edition of ARF’s Journal of Advertising Research, Stu Gray, Gerry Despain and I reported results of 28 studies showing consistently that true sponsorship on the Internet has 7X the average persuasion effect of 30-second TV commercials; a couple of the studies involved direct response where true sponsorship resulted in double-digit ROI. Years ago I measured the persuasion effectiveness of a TV special involving fully-integrated soft-sell cast-presenter commercials and the scores were far higher than the client’s norms. The less we “sell”, the more we sell.

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