Relevant Ads Are All Relative

In my previous column, I called out Randall Rothenberg -- not as a bad person, but as the wrong person for the job of leading an association that sets the tone and agenda for selling interactive advertising.  Rothenberg has no experience selling ads in a way that defends and honors the consumer, by putting meaningful limits on what advertisers can do to reach them.  So he doesn’t relate to how much harder it is to sell media that way, nor the premium pricing earned as a result of these kind of efforts.  

You can throw darts at print, but magazine sales organizations traditionally know how to create premium value while defending and honoring the consumer in this way. It’s one reason why magazine ad rate CPMs are so much higher than online: because it is harder to sell.

Rothenberg’s IAB caters to technologically making it easier to sell large volumes of advertising inventory. By that measure of success, our industry’s accomplishments are underrated.  However, making it easier to sell higher volume comes with lower prices.  



So what four letter-word does our industry’s collective voice use to help increase digital ad prices?  Data.

If the IAB defended and honored the consumer by placing meaningful limitations on how advertisers could reach them, data collection would have been “opt-in.” This would have made it harder to sell at scale, and yet would have been ultimately more valuable.  But the IAB vigorously defended “opt-out” regulations, making it easier to collect larger volumes of data — and by doing so, pummeled the consumer into submission.  At this point, consumers concede their personal data — but don’t mistake concession for consent. And don’t think consumers don’t resent us for this concession.

So what happens next?  Users have “opted out” of trying to “opt out” of targeted ads — and instead, moved onto ad blocking.

Rothenberg’s response to this ad-blocking movement is revealing.  He says that suing the companies providing the ad blocking software users have opted in to use “might be a course of action.”  And now the IAB has announced more tools are being offered to arm publishers in this fight described as a “war between engineers.”

These responses do not defend and honor consumers, but instead perpetuate a battle against them.  The only time the consumer takes our industry’s center stage is when we talk about the benefit delivered by using data and technology to make ads more relevant.  

That’s where this whole thing starts to break down.  

Describing data-driven targeted ads as a consumer benefit creates our industry’s San Andreas fault-line. It’s the intersection between our vision of a consumer benefit — and the consumer’s view that these ads are an invasion of their privacy they feel helpless to fight.

Remember that experiment at the Washington D.C. train station, where a world-class violinist performed with his carrying case opened to collect tips like a street musician?  People walked right by him. One night later, he performed in front of thousands who paid hundreds of dollars for a ticket to see him perform at a theater in Boston.  That’s the value of relevance in the eyes of consumers. And yet, our industry leaders want us to believe more value could have been created if the violinist at the train station performed next to a guy at a urinal who just bought a classical music CD.

Our definition of relevancy does not match the consumers’ definition, and this disconnect will continue to plague us.  Ad blocking is not our newest problem. It’s just the most obvious sign to date that we have one.  

Of everything written these past few weeks about this topic, I think MRY CMO David Berkowitz summed it up best with a comment he posted on the MediaPost comment section: “Where we've really screwed things up is that people hate the experience we created so much that they want to steal from the media companies they actually like, potentially destroying those very sources of info and entertainment.”

2 comments about "Relevant Ads Are All Relative".
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  1. Irina Stefanova from PubGalaxy, October 2, 2015 at 9:46 a.m.

    Sounds harsh, but very sensible. I guess the first step to fix something is to acknowledhe what has been broken.

  2. Steve Baldwin from Didit, October 2, 2015 at 11:45 a.m.

    Ari, you've wonderfully clarified the issues once again. This whole "battle between engineers" thing is beginning to look a lot like the RIAA vs. Napster battle of 15 years ago. And we all know how that one turned out...

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