my turn


Let's Get Real About Privacy And Ads

Let's get something straight -- your privacy online doesn't mean squat to marketers. And understand this -- the vast majority of money they will spend on advertising is a complete waste.

Have I got your attention? Good, because I'm getting tired of all the hand-wringing from privacy advocates and self-anointed business experts over the twists and turns at Facebook. Let's start with the privacy nonsense.

The latest paranoia has to do with confusion over what it means to your profile that Facebook is now a publicly traded company. In fact, far too many profiles I see are slapping up a couple paragraphs of quasi-legal speak that conclude: "The contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law. UCC 1-103 1-308 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITHOUT PREJUDICE."

Setting aside the fact that a company is publicly traded versus privately held has no bearing on the issue, here's the real truth. Nothing you post changes the terms laid out in Facebook's privacy policy. More importantly, there is nothing you share on Facebook that even a halfway intelligent marketer can't find elsewhere -- and more easily.



The reality is that marketers have a far more in-depth view of you from your offline activities. Your credit card purchases provide a rich tale of your shifting tastes and weaknesses. Census data tells me all I need to know the makeup of your neighborhood. Even the newspapers and magazines you subscribe to -- the same ones reporting breathlessly about privacy concerns online -- are eager to make more money by selling their subscriber lists.

People blow a gasket about ads served on Facebook, but think nothing about incessant interruption by ads on TV or the deluge of junk mail in their mailbox (the real one). And don't even get me started on the threat to your credit from using a credit card at that cute little bistro downtown. The fact is that you wish you had the control over your privacy in the real world that you have online.

What you have to understand is that marketers are all about efficiency. Our job is to find the easiest way to convince you to buy our company's products or services. So yes, it is helpful to know that you love pictures of cats with dumb headlines, but only so I know to advertise on that site, not because I plan to blackmail you into buying my product.

Which brings me to the other brutal truth. Advertising sucks -- or rather the vast majority of advertising is worthless and it's obvious that you know it. Hell, even a trained monkey would be appalled by many of the ads splashed across the Internet. How do we know ads are so bad? Because we call it a success when an ad gets a .1 percent click-through rate. That's right -- a successful banner ad will only have one-tenth of one percent of the people who see it click.

So you can imagine the marketing world's sheer delight at a news story the other day reporting that four out of five Facebook users have never purchased an item that they saw advertised on the site. Really? You mean that 20 percent of Facebook's 900 million are willing to spend money if we advertise there?! Get my sales rep on the phone!

The story went on to note that Facebook's ads were less successful than direct mail or email campaigns. (Insert head-smack here.) Of course ads to nameless individuals who are busy looking for stupid pictures of cats are going to fall short of results for one-to-one communication sent directly to people with a known set of preferences.

That's why companies, and their agencies, are in a mad scramble now to create content for Facebook that grabs your attention enough so that you'll share your name and contact information. Oh, and where do you think marketers got those names and addresses for direct-mail and email? Thanks again for your mis-directed concern over privacy.

2 comments about "Let's Get Real About Privacy And Ads".
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  1. James Pasquale from, June 21, 2012 at 9:07 a.m.

    THanks for setting a lot of the misconception straight many of us get asked them all the time. CMOs and markets in a furry to do do better Attention to that 900 million user base that we all know isn't really 900 million, should be focused on build better Intention one on one relationships and go back to traditional signaling.

    Click through rates to buy would go way up if companies took the time to understand what a person intentions are rather then fighting for attention. Resulting in way more useful data and customers who are much more willing to engage.

  2. Marielle Hanke from Cloud Nine Media, June 21, 2012 at 10:14 a.m.

    Todd, whereas I agree with you on the majority of your arguments, I do think it is important that we watch big corporations, Google, FB, Amazon, etc. with a critical eye. We shouldn't go crazy with privacy concerns, but we also shouldn't except and tolerate everything blindly. I think it was not okay for FB to dissolve the 'limited profile group' without any notice. From one day to another, a significant part of my Facebook friends were suddenly able to see every single picture and post - something I only found out a year later. Not really sure how I could have missed this, but it happend and it really annoyed me. I guess that's what makes people concerned, you never know what's gonna happen next.

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