Publishers' Missed Opportunity: Be Our Guest

There is a lot to be learned from Mickey Mouse, and sometimes the lesson is as simple as that legendary character-turned-logo. At this week's OMMA Global in San Francisco, Disney Online's Brad Davis, senior vice president, online ad sales, brought a refreshing perspective to the panel on privacy: "Can Publishers Take Ownership of Privacy?"

While it's not surprising that Disney has what he describes as a "hands-off" approach to the tracking of users on kid-oriented sites, Davis also says that the attitude informs Disney Online's approach to adult sites as well. "Everything is opt-in," he said. "We make it clear in our privacy policy what our position is on data acquisition. None of this happens unless the user actively opts into having an advertiser use the data." As he described it, even when an opted-in user does leave the site to click through on an ad or link, that user is warned he's leaving the confines of Disney for a place where the privacy and data practices may be different.



 I 'm not sure where, exactly, that functionality occurs on the Disney sites, but it sounds like a fascinating goal for publishers. We hear a lot about how it is all about "audience" now, and that user data is the new king. Those factors, of course, are what's driving this hunger for any and all user data. Publishers are being told by advertisers and media pundits that their audience, not necessarily their content, is their greatest commodity.

But Davis' terminology (via Disney culture) turned that audience-centric  thinking on its mouse ear when he insisted, "Our guest is the most important aspect of our business.... We have much more to gain from establishing a good relationship with the consumer."

Earlier in the panel, Eric Goldman, Director, High Tech Law Institute, Santa Clara University School of Law, had upbraided publishers for being two-faced about the privacy issue. According to Davis, publishers often say they want to give users easy opt-out opportunities, but they don't really want to make those buttons too visible or the disclosures too apparent. James Oppenheim, CMO of Peer39, said that a lot of publishers right now are just looking everywhere and anywhere to monetize, and corners get cut. "They are in a game of survival, and they come up with unique methodologies in order to make their numbers."

 But it is in that context that Davis says of his audience, "They are our guests. Yes, we have revenue goals to meet, but it is a part of the reason advertisers come to us -- because of that trust with consumers. We are in it for the long term."

 One of the most interesting ideas mentioned during this week's publisher-focused discussion of privacy at OMMA Global was this: Media brands could turn the privacy concern on its ear and make it a part of a brand strategy, rather than a defensive game of duck and cover, dodge and weave.

 For instance, several panelists were puzzled by publishers' willingness to turn over user data to third parties like ad networks, when this is data that the publisher should be soliciting from the user in order to deepen their relationship. Why should ad networks be building profiles of users when the publisher is in the best position to ask the user directly about herself, argued Fran Maier, president and chair, TRUSTe. "Aren't users more willing to do that with a publisher than with some ad network?" she asked.

 I pursued this with Maier after the panel. She told me that Yahoo and Google have introduced profiling where users can opt in to giving more details about themselves. "It is time for publishers to build that capability in for consumers, so that they can improve the data about themselves," she said. "Obviously it needs to be an opt-in, but it has the dual benefit of letting the publisher say 'Hey, here is what we know about you and why,' and at that point you are getting into a much better exchange of data."

I would say that by facilitating this conversation, the publisher opens the possibility of a more trusting and deeper relationship with the user, not less of one. This is the kind of conversation you have with a "guest" in order to serve and know her better, rather than a mere "visitor" from whom you are looking to "extract value" -- or a "user" that you are "using" in return.

3 comments about "Publishers' Missed Opportunity: Be Our Guest".
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  1. Ruth Barrett from, March 19, 2010 at 9 p.m.

    I keep getting the feeling in the back of my neck that we are closing the barn doors well after the horse has left. I hope not.

  2. Elizabeth Kulin from ZEDO, March 22, 2010 at 2:37 p.m.

    Great article. If this does become the norm for publishers there will be a need to educate internet users about personalized web experiences and also browser cookies.
    I work for the advertising technology provider ZEDO and have started to drive this mission. Publishers might need resources - ZEDO is willing to help pulishers make sense of all this for thier audience.

    See "Cookies can be good for you!" at
    OR email me at

    Liz Kulin
    ZEDO Marketing Manager

  3. Karl Wabst from The 56 Group, April 23, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.

    Excellent article. There is so much good that publishers can accomplish by building trusted relationships with consumers.

    Done with sensitivity a privacy program can improve data quality & facilitate information sharing. Actionable data can be gathered from both external & internal sources e.g. employment, government & commercial transactions, visits to websites, blogs & social networks, application for employment & credit, medical treatment, or even compliance output.

    All that data can be used for innovative promotional, operational & even security applications, e.g. digitized medical records, collaborative workflow, targeted advertising, employee monitoring.

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