Commentary

Einstein's Corner: Cookies as Date Rape

The essence of freedom does not reside in the ability to opt out. The essence of freedom resides instead in the ability not to opt for something in the first place. As an industry, we deny consumers the basic essence of freedom and pervert the user experience each and every time we drop a cookie without permission from the person who owns the hard drive we drop it on. Everything we do from that moment on in the name of the user experience rings hollow and is transparently self-serving, absent the enlightened self-interest that would otherwise protect the freedom of expression and media ecology we all profess to care so much about. In short, we talk the talk but refuse to walk the walk.

The emptiness of our own practice is echoed in the emptiness of the arguments we invoke to support them. Chief among them is an old industry standby: advertising in exchange for free content. Note to industry: There is no more free content. There hasn't been any free content for some years now, not since broadcast TV became the alternative to cable. A person could go broke paying for all of this "free" content, just between the monthly cost of cable and ISP access alone.

That there is no more free content -- only pay-to-play and pay-more-to-play -- is a simple fact already understood by everyone it seems, except the small community of advertising and marketing professionals who insist on promoting the free-content-for-advertising quid pro quo mythology (among others) whenever we get caught with our hands in the proverbial cookie jar. Pun intended.

How can we profess either innocence or surprise in response to adverse consumer reaction if -- milliseconds after we invite someone in the door -- we slip them the equivalent of a technological mickey? It doesn't matter how benign or how temporary the physical effects of the date rape drug itself may be, not when the emotional and spiritual damage induced by the cavalier and calculated act of dropping it are neither benign nor temporary.

The same is so with cookies. It doesn't matter how benign they are, or even how beneficial they may be, as long as we don't ask permission to drop them. The fact, that we somehow feel entitled to drop them without even asking for permission to do so tells consumers more about what we really think of them than all of our high-toned privacy statements and other post facto cover-your-ass fine print combined.

The accepted act of dropping cookies without permission is nothing less than a form of industrial date rape, nothing less than petty larceny conducted on a grand and orchestrated scale. Likewise, the current state of diminished returns in online marketing reflects nothing less than the broken window theory of urban decay at work. We've simply broken and neglected to repair far too many windows in recent years, and consumers are now fleeing the inner cities of advertising and marketing in search of fresher air and less blighted neighborhoods.

Moreover, if the recording and movie industries would like to know why consumers feel entitled to steal their intellectual property, they might be well advised to turn their attention to the advertising and marketing industry apologists who continue to wave the advertising-for-free-content banner. They are the ones who cheapen content and convert it from king into court jester. They are the ones who promote the theft of content by declaring that the content itself has no value apart from its juxtaposition to advertising. They are the ones who have conditioned consumers for decades to think of content as free, and they are the ones who then feign indignation the moment consumers act accordingly.

We cannot have it both ways. Our fixation on the advertising-for-free-content mythology not only widens the gap between marketers and consumers, it creates a false economy that generates ever-diminishing return on investment (DROI) for advertisers, and -- more importantly -- diverts us as an industry from the exploration of real solutions and real opportunities. Our fealty to our own lie ultimately cheapens and perverts everything we touch with it. Especially the quality of our own lives and work.

It's time to stop; it's time instead for responsible and mature advertisers and marketers to convert what we now view in desultory fashion as fine-print obligation into core opportunity. Time to walk the talk. We have surrendered our power to our own lies. But we can reclaim it anytime we want. I'll be calling you soon with a plan...

What do you think?

Addicted to Einstein's Corner? Find your next fix at Jeff Einstein's weblog -- Einstein's Corner -- at http://einsteinscorner.com.

Next story loading loading..