BT And Consumers: Transparency Crucial To Gaining Trust

Publishers and advertisers by now have internally devoted enormous investments in money, time and intellectual capital to behavioral targeting platforms. Yet when it comes to consumers themselves, most brands still like to pretend that behavioral targeting doesn't exist, treating it like a secret vice to be locked away, hidden from the public that simply "can't handle the truth."

 A study issued last week by Trust(e), an independent nonprofit online privacy advocacy organization, documents why that is precisely the wrong message for brands to be communicating.

The Trust(e) Behavioral Advertising Survey, conducted by TNS, surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,008 individuals aged 18 and over on their attitudes about behavioral targeting. The survey found that, although consumers remain suspicious of and conflicted toward behavioral targeting, an increasing percentage of the online public are growing somewhat less uncomfortable about behavioral targeting, if (and it clearly remains a BIG if) brands radically step up their efforts to be more open, honest and transparent about where, when and how behavioral targeting is used.



Contrary to the assumption of some in the industry, behavioral targeting as a term is no longer esoteric. In fact, according to the survey, 43.2% of respondents said they're familiar with the term, and 68.6% knew that their browsing information may be collected by a third party for advertising purposes. Over a third, 34.9%, felt their privacy has been invaded or violated in the last year due to information they provided on the Internet.

The survey found that consumers were not only very sensitive to any perceived intrusions into privacy, but also acted on that feeling by managing their privacy through activities like deleting cookies. Over 36% of respondents said they do at least one of the following in order to surf the Internet anonymously: use proxy surfing software; give fake names and contact info when requested by certain Web sites; and use a Web browser with privacy settings that delete cookies and don't record a history of visited sites.

Still, a majority of respondents agreed that they wanted to see more relevant ads online.

These findings were broadly consistent with those in a similar survey a year ago, according to Colin O'Malley, Trust(e)'s Director of Strategic Business, The study illustrate both opportunities and challenges for marketers, he believes.

"On a high level," says O'Malley, "you have a continuing disconnect between these findings. Consumers are increasingly aware of behavioral targeting, they want ads that are more relevant, yet they remain suspicious of behavioral marketing."

Nonetheless, O'Malley explains, there were significant departures from a year ago in the survey. There has been a discernible increase in the numbers of consumers who, despite some remaining skepticism, feel MORE comfortable now with behavioral targeting. Only 50.5% of respondents, for instance, versus 57% a year ago, said they were uncomfortable with advertisers using their browsing history to serve relevant ads, even when that information cannot be tied to their names or any other personal information.

O' Malley suggests that familiarity with the concept of behavioral targeting, rather than breeding contempt, is fostering at least a modicum less suspicion, the more BT comes out of the shadows.

But to take the comfort level further, requires not only that marketers take their behavioral initiatives out of the shadows but become radically more proactive in providing true transparency and dialogue, he suggests.

"It's no longer enough just to have a 'privacy statement' up somewhere on your Web site," he says. " If they look to increase comfort among a majority of consumers. publishers must consciously build transparency into the essence of the user experience. Web sites that do that, not as a gimmick or an extraneous add-on, will be able to improve not only relevance but consumer engagement and trust as well. But it must be looked at not as an onerous obligation to be conformed with, but as a real opportunity."

It's too early to isolate particular solutions as the answer, O' Malley says, but the good news is, there is some real innovation going on. "I'd point to sites that invite consumers to learn more about exactly why particular ads were targeted to them and why, and why they're seeing Ad A rather than something else," he says. "This kind of proactivity communicates very clearly that the publisher has nothing to hide and there are no hidden agendas."

This correlates very strongly with another bedrock finding of the survey, that consumers prefer to see ads from brands and on sites that they know and trust.

"A big part of gaining brand and site loyalty," O'Malley adds, " is taking responsibility for the ads on one's sites and taking responsibility for ensuring a privacy-friendly environment and experience."


Editor's Note: Session videos of MediaPost's recent OMMA Behavioral conference are now available for viewing at

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