By: Mike Hans
Last week I was out in San Francisco to moderate a panel on Data Privacy in Advertising. We had a great group of panelists sharing diverse perspectives and, surprisingly, a lot of audience engagement.
Given that data privacy can be a pretty dry topic, I think the event would have been a flop just a year or so ago, but a lot has transpired in that time. GDPR went into effect, the Cambridge Analytica scandal happened, the California Consumer Privacy Act was passed, and much, much more. These changes are making a direct impact on marketers, and what once seemed like a primarily European headache is turning into an ethical dilemma at home.
Ethics – now that’s a touchy topic. Where’s the line when it comes to tracking consumers? Who’s responsible for data protection? Don’t people want more personalization? Is my phone listening to me? That last question was one I posed to the audience and interestingly about 75% of the room raised their hands (did you think yes when you read the question?). Of course, the Google’s and Facebook’s of the world insist they’re not, but yet have privacy policies that allow it. As the Internet of Things continues to expand at a prodigious rate, marketers will be forced to make decisions on where to draw the line. If the last decade of digital is any indication of those future decisions, the dollar vote will stay squarely with more data and more targeting.
But do consumers really want more targeting? There’s a debate in digital advertising right now around audience versus content (read here for my two cents on the topic), but is that the right question? The themes that keep emerging are: we have to do more to be consumer centric, we need to stop hunting for cheap CPMs and instead use the tools we have to target in a relevant, privacy safe way, and we must work with transparent partners in a manner where data is controlled to ensure privacy.
Foundationally, great care must be taken with personally identifiable information (PII), especially when it’s shared with partners and vendors. Many brands have created PII related rules and workflows to ensure data privacy, and those that haven’t need to move in that direction. As one of the panelists pointed out, marketers need to put on their legal hat a bit more and legal needs to put on their marketing hat. There has to be a conversation if we want to figure this out.
While we, as marketers, adjust our technology stacks and processes to adapt to regulatory and ethical pressures, there should also be a healthy dose of questioning. Is the name of the game really consent? Do we actually need more data to be effective? Are we giving consumers a reason to interact with my brand and to share their data with me?
The consumer response is evident in the data. Ad blocking adoption rates continue to climb and roughly one in four people in the US use a blocker today. At the same time, shockingly, Americans are less concerned about data privacy than they were just a few years ago and they actually prefer targeted ads! Put those together and we get a picture of a consumer who’s tired of runaway frequency, poor creative, mistimed messaging, and the lack of true personalization. That same consumer appreciates a good advertising experience, but they just haven’t gotten enough of it and so the answer is increasingly – block it all.
As marketers, new data privacy regulations and the important discussion around data ethics is an opportunity to get things right. While regulatory compliance may feel laborious, it can instead be viewed as a chance to correct bad practices. Maybe we can engage with consumers in a way that encourages them to share their data in return for value. Maybe we can use non-personal data signals like content or geography to still personalize creative without invading privacy. Maybe we can move from a low CPM high volume based buying approach to a strategy that values ad quality, relevance, and an investment in good creative. Data privacy is here to stay so let’s recalibrate our mindset from burden to opportunity. If all advertising is ultimately going digital, it’s critical we get this right.