Do most users really want to fiddle with personal profiles in order to get more or differently targeted ads sent to them? In my colleague Laurie Sullivan's last column in this space, she discussed how people's profiles change with age, and how their eagerness to manage that profile also heightens as they move from college into the workforce. For a host of reasons other than ad preferences, people may want to manage the ways in which Web tracking technologies categorize them.
In much the same way that people are hyper-aware of their credit scores in a debt-driven consumer culture, they may find that their digital footprint needs tending and monitoring, if only as a defense against misuse. Until now there has been scant evidence that onliners are swamping the Google or Yahoo ad preferences pages or that the NAI or vendors like BlueKai and eXelate that offer profile management are getting overwhelmed with takers.
But you never know what happens to user habits in new media. As new privacy initiatives proliferate standardized icons and messaging and push people towards profile pages, manicuring your online profile could become as typical as cleaning out your email inbox or some other behavior we never anticipated a decade ago.
But once we take personal profiles off the Web and onto mobile, it is going to be a much more complicated matter. Mobile user data is fragmented across so many platforms, technologies and companies in this environment, it will take a mammoth industry effort to make it neat and easy for anyone to manage a footprint that reaches across your carrier, mobile Web, app platforms like Apple's and Android's, and individual apps.
But I guess we have to start somewhere. One of the largest mobile ad networks, Jumptap, announced plans this week to implement user profile management -- or what it calls "consumer intelligence."
"It provides a value exchange that consumers can manage," says Paran Johar, CMO of Jumptap. Mobile users will be able to access their profile for ads targeted to them on mobile Web pages through a mobile Web site. The visitors can toggle on or off a couple dozen ad categories and elect to see them or have them excluded. "They can tell brands what kind of mobile ads they want and when they want them," says Johar.
Johar says that research makes clear that ad relevance drives engagement, and by allowing the consumer to self-select the ad categories and adjust those preferences over time, "they will get advertising that is more of interest to them and they will get ads that relate to them." Johar adds, "The value exchange is missing in general in advertising. It will permeate other forms of advertising as they all become more addressable. I think it will works its way upstream as a rebellion against irrelevant advertising."
Well, that might be a tall order. The mobile landscape is incredible fragmented. Jumptap has a reach of about 60 million unique and 6 billion ad impressions a month. It works with inventory on major carriers, especially AT&T. But that still represents only a piece of a highly diffuse and variegated universe of mobile that includes multiple networks and individual apps. Just like the consumer ad preference systems at Yahoo, Google, BlueKai and NAI, no one mobile ad system is even close to covering the terrain a user traverses on his phone.
Everyone in the mobile world is well aware that the personal nature of the cell phone raises the stakes on irrelevant advertising. Very little on a 3-inch screen is invisible. Poor ad targeting reflects poorly on the mobile media and on the publishers in which the ads occur. Seeing crappy animated ringtone ads in a social media app or on a news mobile Web site tells most users that a publisher is either eager to take cash wherever he can get it or is unconcerned about the user experience.
On the other hand, consumers may feel more invested in the process of getting relevant, targeted advertising on their cell phones than they are on the Web. The value exchange could be demonstrably better and more immediate (i.e. contextually relevant coupons, offers that hit you at the right time of day, etc.). Mobile could well be the place where consumers take a greater personal interest in managing their personal profile than they do on the Web. Not only is irrelevant advertising just more annoying here -- but the potential for well-targeted ads to be of real use and value in our everyday lives is greater.