As cross-screen advertising takes hold in our industry, data is becoming more meaningful and thus, advertising is more individually tailored. The right application and execution render powerful consumer experiences, enabling us to engage the right person at the right time on the right device with highly personalized messaging. However, this precision requires more individualized data and the sensitivity of this data necessitates that marketers and their data solution providers consider their responsibilities with respect to consumer privacy and the proper management of this personal information. It also requires marketers to keep a rational, somewhat nuanced eye on how consumers may perceive personalization.
Balancing the Exchange
This entire process is all part of the larger fair-value exchange that governs the advertising technology ecosystem: users get free content access and in return, brands pay the publisher for the ads served to the consumer audience. This principle is the primary driver of growth in our industry and as we continue to collect varying data points, we mustn’t throw off the balance of the scales in this exchange. As tailored advertising becomes the norm, our industry must handle consumer data responsibly as to not stymie our progress. While some suppose that getting consumers to pay for content is a matter of skillfully integrating pay walls, the 2015 Digital News Report from the Reuters School for International Journalism found that 67% of respondents in the U.S. wouldn’t pay for content no matter what the price. Thus, ad monetization remains key to the publishing business and the democratization of content.
When it comes to striking the right balance with consumers, marketers (for the most part) have been allowed to self-police. But, consider this possibility if we overstep: the tide of consumer perception turns negative. An undesirable ad experience can also lead to user backlash. According to a recent study from PageFair and Adobe, 50% of consumers started to use an ad blocker when they felt that marketers had misused their data. When users opt out of the process, the even playing field of the fair-value exchange is thrown off.
As most recent coverage surge of ad blocking within iOS9 indicates, there are a variety of reasons for ad blocking. The common denominator is consumer perception of “quality,” whether that is ad load time, aesthetic quality, thoughtful and contextual relevance—or a marketer’s high-integrity use of data to drive “quality” experiences.
Ultimately, the global digital ad economy will suffer significant loses if we don’t get this right and ad blocking continues to gain traction; the practice of ad blocking is expected to cost $41.4 billion by 2016. So addressing the quality issue in all its forms is our collective industry responsibility. And that includes using data to derive a quality exchange.
A Wealth of Data Begets Marketer Responsibility
As we evolved to expect and derive more from the click, so did the data and models we use to predict behavior; thus deepening our dependencies on data and blurring the lines of privacy. Between data overlays, individualized data through probabilistic inference, and true personally identifiable information collected via deterministic models, we are tracking a vast amount of user behavior as they journey across devices.
This is where the real power (and danger) lies. How far is too far? When does Big Brother enter the picture? We all have grown accustomed to and expect our favorite brand’s ability to recommend our next purchase. At what point does this step over a line? This is why brands have such strict policies around use of data.
In the end, “sensitive” is in the eye of the beholder. Some consumers would consider re-targeting to be an annoyance they would opt to avoid. Others find it a convenience. It perhaps comes down to thinking through consumer perception of personalization and moreover the various aspects of quality we need to assure.
The spectrum of data now available is both a blessing and a curse. As a marketer, it’s a powerful benefit to one’s business to be able to better serve and understand consumer needs, with greater precision. The curse lies in how invasive this data application can be and running the risk with your execution on somehow alienating the consumer who draws fine lines on acceptable levels of targeting. Unlocking the nuance requires utmost sensitivity to these fine lines so we can keep the fair value exchange up and running.
In short, advertisers need to balance both monetary and ethical drivers when determining how to use people’s data — we have to take that responsibility seriously. Not just for the sake of consumers, but also for the sake of the fair-value exchange that drives our industry’s growth.