Prior to his upcoming keynote at AdClub's Internet Day, Jesse Brown spoke with me about the future of data usage in online advertising.
OneDegree: What is the greatest opportunity/threat to online marketers with respect to data usage in online advertising?
J: The opportunity is hard to overstate: we're approaching a reality where, through data, marketers need never waste another dollar on a misdirected message and where consumers need never be annoyed by irrelevant marketing. But there is a grave threat here, which is the possibility that marketers will abuse data or confuse the public to the point where consumers back away entirely and protect their data as a reflex, even when it would benefit them enormously to share.
OD: As more online media companies leverage data for use in online marketing more questions come up about data ownership. Who owns the data?
J: That's a big question, which can be approached as a legal, moral, or even philosphical quandry. But in truth: I'm not sure! Certainly we own our own identities, and shouldn't be allowed to barter or sell them even if we wanted to. But is privacy itself a commodity? We've been treating it as such, trading it for access to great web tools like GMail or Facebook. There's a cynical idea floating around that people are being duped, that they don't realize what they're giving up and will only miss their privacy once it's gone. But I don't think people are stupid. I think we're getting the idea that our information has worth, and we're comfortable capitalizing on it so long as we're treated honestly and respectfully. But when that trust is broken- watch out!
OD: Companies are becoming smarter about the way they collect and use data. Many companies can now granularly target advertising to specific audiences:
a. Should consumers be concerned?
J: Consumers should be informed. Certainly there are shady characters out there who consumers should watch out for. I think consumers and reputable marketers need to work together towards an honest, transparent system that protects everyone.
b. Will consumers protest the use of data online?
J: If their data is abused, you bet! I've covered some remarkable online protests, where the might of the consumer comes crashing down on companies. The funny thing is, half the time the protests stem not from something abusive a marketer has done, but from a widescale misunderstanding of what a marketer might do. But in these cases, I think marketers are still responsible. They lacked transparency and clarity in striking a deal with consumers. They left too much confusion in too small a print size, and it came back to bite them.
c. Does this change the way advertisers are looking at online marketing? Ie: is there a move away from targeting content (that caters to specific type of audience) to targeting audiences (using data and across general content)?
J: Absolutely. Content will always rule, but the very definition of content is changing. People make their own content every day, and the messages we create for each other are often much more relevant to us than anything Hollywood could produce. So is there room for marketers in those conversations? I think so, but it'll take a light touch, ingenuity, and above all- respect.
OD: Do you believe companies will start to actively incorporate offline data to gain even more insight into user behaviour?
J: Sure. If you've got two datasets that you came by honestly, why not mash them up and look for relationships? It's getting easier and easier to do this, and there's a good chance you'll learn something useful.
OD: In the US, the IAB has recently issued a document outlining self-regulation rules for usage of cookie data in online advertising. What impact do you believe this will have in Canada?
J: I hope it will lead to something similar here. If marketers don't regulate themselves, then government will step in, and their policies typically don't favor innovation. But I will say that when marketers get together to craft these rules, privacy advocates and user groups should have a seat at the table. And an online, public consultation would give any resulting document a lot of legitimacy!
Mladen Raickovic is an expert in online advertising with a focus on direct response. He currently manages Olive Media’s direct response ad network, Olive Brand Response.