Sure enough, I cannot turn around and look over my shoulder without seeing transparency sneak up upon me. At such times, I find myself wishing that we could solve the transparency problem once and for all so that we could get back to talking about lead generation.
When will the day arrive when all advertisers have complete knowledge of where their offers run, and all consumers sign up for incentives in an open manner that builds trust?
But it might not be that easy. It appears that the lack of transparency in lead generation marketing is no longer a mere disease. It might have evolved into a full-fledged epidemic.
At a panel discussion at the OMMA conference in New York last month, Jordan Rohan, managing director of U.S. Equity Research at RBC Capital Markets, said that he knew of more than one private company that has settled out of court with the Federal Trade Commission over its lead generation practices (in this case, "more than one" equaled 12.) So, ValueClick is not alone in exorcising the transparency ghost. There is no doubt, however, that the company has borne the brunt of the issue. The FTC's investigation into ValueClick's lead generation practices seems to have hurt its potential for being acquired. This has occurred despite the fact that ValueClick has the Mediaplex ad-serving technology under its umbrella, at a time when ad-serving companies are being gobbled up faster than a donut in a Simpsons movie. After the panel discussion in New York, our best minds went to the TARGUSinfo Online Lead Quality Summit held in Las Vegas. And it was little wonder that transparency was at the forefront of many a conversation in the city of chance.
Minds tend to wander in Vegas. But in September, they stayed focused on transparency and the major role it plays in driving lead quality. In a session titled "Building the Right Formula for ROI," Laura Lewellyn, senior data analyst at TARGUSinfo, stressed the importance of matching the leads to their source in order to garner maximum ROI.
This time around, what happened in Vegas does not have to stay in Vegas.
We have to begin to address this issue of transparency. We will be doing our industry, our clients and our shareholders a huge favor. First, we would be served well to follow the best practices outlined by the Online Lead Generation Association. In fact, we shouldn't merely follow these best practices, we should demand them.
OLGA advises advertisers to thoroughly inspect both the media venues and the offers for relevancy. The organization asks that advertisers check for opt-ins and opt-outs. In addition, OLGA recommends that advertisers regain control over their campaigns by knowing where their advertisements are appearing and having the ability to turn off spurious campaigns within 48 hours. At the OMMA panel, Leonard Gordon from the FTC urged our industry to self-regulate, and it looks like OLGA will be taking the lead in this regard. It's long overdue.
Second, we should ensure that lead generation campaigns are deployed in a transparent and open manner. The ideal solution:
1. All publishers, advertisers and agencies should be able to connect with each other -- that is, utilize an open network 2. Advertisers should know more about the publishers, i.e. utilize a network that requires advertisers and publishers to register with the network. Advertisers would be able to access a public directory of publishers, thereby cutting through the shrouds of secrecy. While this won't help address the issue of the aptly named "blind" networks, it will still be a major step forward for the industry at large. 3. Advertisers should be able to turn off campaigns with a click of a mouse, i.e.,a scenario wherein advertisers regain control of their campaigns.
I don't know if Mary ever got rid of her little lamb. But it is about time we do. I would love to hear from you on all that we can do to make lead generation marketing in the consumer industry more open, transparent and profitable.