Marketers, Stop Apologizing: It's OK To Use Data

Like medieval monks lashing themselves for past sins, marketers have been wincing in shame at their data behavior. The flood of webinars, white papers and new technology announcements related to Google’s decision to end third-party cookies (a move now slated for 2023) have essentially apologized for targeting, presuming that marketers will retrench from most online one-to-one tracking.

So let’s pause and consider something radical. What if it’s OK to track consumers individually? In fact, what if marketers have a moral mandate to personalize advertising? Let’s explore some facts the industry narrative overlooks.

Consumers need advertising. Admit it: While surveys show that most consumers dislike advertising and online tracking, they depend on billions in advertising to support their universe of unpaid content. Only 16% of Pandora users pay the subscription fee to avoid the ad clutter. Facebook could remove all ads entirely if its 2.8 billion users paid $3 a month for membership – about 10 cents a day! -- but we won’t. So, advertising is essential.



Beyond subsidizing media, advertising boosts our economy. The Association of National Advertisers estimates U.S. ad spend accounts for $7.4 trillion in product and service sales. That’s one-third of our GDP tied to marketer intrusions. If you like your job or want your company to succeed, advertising is vital. Any big moves that reduce advertising effectiveness will be like letting air out of your car tires: The economy won’t hum along.

For advertising to succeed, marketers need targeting data. In the 1970s, if you wanted to reach people in market for a new car, you’d have to run ads in a magazine known for car reviews, a pretty blunt “content proxy” approach. Today, online data monitoring picks up signals of people actively searching for any product, even people who have visited a retail location. Data matches message to human interest, and suddenly, advertising works.

The outcry over cookies is exaggerated. Even if every third-party cookie were vaporized tomorrow, the giants in the online industry -- Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook -- would still pick up so many data signals that “online privacy” is still nonexistent. Search for a hammer on Google and within minutes your email receives a hammer ad. Amazon likely knows the brand of dishwasher in your kitchen based on your thousands of shopping clicks there. Instagram watches what you Like to immediately serve related ads. Digital cookies are only one part of how marketers track and target, and if anything, they’re already the smallest tool in the arsenal.

Yes, there is a line where too much surveillance is creepy. People do have a right to adequate privacy, and no one wants drones peeking in their bedroom window. But advertising supports the economy, to the tune of billions of dollars -- and that requires data.

So stop apologizing, marketers. Go find more data. Make ads even more personal. The worst thing that will happen is you may tell someone about a car they find interesting.

3 comments about "Marketers, Stop Apologizing: It's OK To Use Data".
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  1. Dwight Gorall from NetWise, September 17, 2021 at 2:03 p.m.

    Well done Ben...outstanding common sense thoughts.  Cookie deprecation is not about privacy its about money and power.

  2. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, September 22, 2021 at 2:42 a.m.

    Ben - the ad industry was thriving well before cookies/tracking, so those points are moot.

    Marketers "need targeting data" to succeed?  Sure - but how much and what?  Most marketers don't need 95% of the data collected on a consumer, but they can get it easily.  Maybe the only company that truly needs the data is the publisher who can provide insights on their audience vs. every individual they reach. 

    Billions are spent every year on TV which has some of the worst targeting data. Why do marketers insist digital pubishers and content providers need to provide so much granular data when TV or Outdoor or Direct Mail can't get that granular? Why hold digital to such a higher standard? 

    The outcry over cookies is exxagerated?  Then why do the majority of consumers want the option to opt-in instead of being forced to go through a myriad of hoops to opt-out? Searching for a hammer doesn't mean I need a hammer - nor does it mean I'm searching for my own needs.  Nobody is searching through my pockets or knows what I'm wearing or knows exacty what I read when I'm browsing a magazine or direct mail. Nobody knows which billboards I actually see. Nobody knows when I'm sitting in front of the TV or when it's on as background noise. Nobody knows how many people are listening to Pandora through my bluetooth speaker, what we are eating, what we are wearing, or how often I use my online banking app....but all of that info is demanded by marketers when it comes to digital because too much data is available.

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of assumptions when people search or browse the internet - most notably, Google still can't figure out when I'm browsing for my job purposes or for myself - so I actually get hit with a ton of ads that make no sense for me.

    The industry needs to get back to the basics. Understand what content is going to resonate with the target consumer and start working with publishers again to create ads that resonate with the target audience instead of lazily relying on data to serve up boring, repetitive ads which just drives the need for ad blockers.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 22, 2021 at 11:23 a.m.

    Good post, Dan. I agree with most of what you said---we are way too relaint on "data" not only in digital media but in all media. It's time people stopped trying to place all---or most ---of the responsibility on  "data" , which often is not all that helpful---and start taking responsibility for their decisions---guided, but not controlled by "data".

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