So disbanding this tracking practice is not practical, but we should get back on the right side of the track. We fell off when we started making decisions for users without their clear understanding of their own consent. That line should never have been crossed, blurred or hidden inside user agreements that were checked but never read. Our current approach to collecting user permission and insight used to create targeted ad solutions and content experiences lacks significant transparency, and is the reason why the spotlight is upon us in Washington D.C. We asked for and deserve this scrutiny.
The self-regulation guidelines I tried hard to follow in the trades seem like a well-negotiated band-aid; I think we should use this opportunity to operate instead. We can reinvent our medium right now to match the needs and interests of consumers -- and do so with an abundance of respect for their privacy, as opposed to the lack of it we demonstrate today.
Publishers can elevate their role of attention gatekeepers by inviting users to choose exactly which companies (including your own) to accept a cookie from. We can offer a "choose all" or "keep all" option so those wishing for their experience on your sites to remain exactly the same, can make that choice. But if a cookie is not actively chosen, it's not case closed. Then we deal with what is properly collected, and act and sell accordingly.
An obvious downside to this aboveboard approach would be the production of fewer targeted impressions to divide and conquer. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as CPMs would rise for these highly targeted avenues. But now let's look at what would happen with the ocean of impressions we would be left to sell that would have very little or no tracking devices in which to serve creative. How can this help our business of publishing online?
The magic word is creative. Currently we track users like pigeons to entice buyers to place their client's ads. Then buyers place their feet on their desks and a target on our backs, as they demand lower prices because the targeting we over-promised is under-delivering on performance goals we had no influence in setting. And what do we do next? We lower our CPMs and take on further responsibility to optimize campaigns, while buyers shift dollars from one site to another in the hopes of achieving greater success for their clients.
Our reliance on site-side targeting to drive sell-through of our inventory further induces this cost-per-action mentality that works against us. Targeting comes with a greater burden of responsibility for optimizing campaign performance while doing very little to induce creative optimization. Right now, we get various ad sizes to run -- but how many times do we run a campaign that has various ad messages? And sharing our insight on how to improve the client's creative so it connects better with our audience has become a taboo topic to bring up. Any mention of creative is answered with, "It's working on other sites, so why isn't it working on yours?"
I would love to ask in return, "Why are you running the same ad on both Weather.com and Espn.com?" When you check the weather you feel one way; when you check up on your football team, you feel another. Why wouldn't advertisers want to creatively shape their message to match these distinctly different feelings? Because clients don't need to invest in creative optimization at the site level when we continue to sell them on the benefits that come from greater targeting, at prices that continue to plummet, while owning the lion's share of burden for performance.
If the total allotment of targeted impressions diminished because users said so, clients will continue to seek success but will be forced to lean more on creative performance for cookie-free impressions. This will lead to running multiple creative messages, a deeper appetite to understand the motives of visitors, and likely more willingness to creatively collaborate . All this gets closer to the end goal of greater and more credible integration, while shifting more responsibility for success where it belongs -- on the creative.
Giving users the option to choose their cookies versus asking them to understand how to erase them may appear to be a giant step backwards. But a step backwards can also be a step in the right direction -- if you have fallen off track.