Media buyers weighed in on the use of behavioral targeting in online advertising Thursday, suggesting that privacy was more than a minor concern for clients in connection with the practice.
Speaking at the OMMA Behavioral conference in New York, Adam Kasper, director of digital media at Media Contacts, warned that a "watershed moment" is coming for behavioral targeting when consumers gain greater awareness of the extent to which their online activity can be tracked and targeted, triggering a backlash.
"It's the elephant in the room, and there's going to be a point where consumers get it and there's going to be a big public outcry," said Kasper. For the most part, people don't read privacy terms and conditions when they're surfing the Web, so they're not typically focused on the issue.
But a major incident involving exposure of personal data online or similar event raising a red flag on privacy could change that overnight. "That's going to hit the agencies pretty hard, and it's something that we need to be prepared for," said Kasper. He indicated that tighter self-policing within the digital industry was a key to avoiding increased regulation as a result of greater public pressure.
Melissa Adams, executive media director at Organic, noted that clients are already asking more questions about behavioral targeting even as they are drawn to its promise of more effective Web campaigns. "Clients are more interested in the details of where data is coming from than in the past," she said.
Asked about whether that was a good sign, Adams said, "it's positive if we can educate clients about the anonymity of it all and how it's used to their benefit, but it's a big bridge to cross to get them to understand there are safeguards in place."
The panel more broadly agreed on the need for some type of third-party verification to vet the quality and sourcing of data supplied to agencies by outside technology vendors. That's especially true as digital agencies are bombarded with pitches from myriad data providers and BT firms that all make similar promises about what their platforms can deliver.
"Every vendor is going to make certain claims but what's needed is an outside third-party to verify the claims," said Michael Andrew, director of search and analytics at Mediasmith. One big question is how recent the audience data is that agencies are tapping into to for behaviorally guided campaigns. If a targeted consumer is no longer in the market for a car, for instance, the data no longer relevant. "I think the thing that scares us is that there's so much trust feeding into these different systems," said Adams.
But none of the agency executives had a good idea for what ad industry organization or other body could serve as an outside auditor for behavioral data. But Kasper said following the panel it would have to be an independent third party without their own ad network. "Someone with a market position similar to Nielsen or comScore," he said.
Despite the technical hurdles and regulatory issues surrounding behavioral targeting, Kasper and other panelists voiced enthusiasm for the technique, especially in trying to reach consumers early in the purchasing process. "I love the idea of using BT in targeting people at the top of the funnel, if for no other reason than to drive efficiencies," said Kasper. "It's a really big idea."