January 14, 2010

Transparency in Online Ad Targeting & Serving Russell Glass, CEO of Bizo.com aspires to " provide anonymous, safe, transparent targeting for every ad served on the web." Well I guess we all should have lofty goals. But Russ is one of the few people talking about transparency in online advertising; specifically the idea that you ought to know not only where the ads you see came from but why you were served those particular ads. It's a huge idea. Imagine how you feel when you go to the mailbox after making a charitable donation only to find that every charity in the same category is in hot pursuit. You grimace and figure that the hospital must have sold their list. But its still an inference and an annoyance. Russ proposes to put an icon on every ad that signals info about its origin and your relationship to the ad is buried inside. Clicking on the icon essentially reads and displays the data on the targeting cookie. By click #2, you see that the ad came from BusinessWeek or DoubleClick and it was aimed at a C level manufacturing guy in NYC. Will this knowledge make you more likely to respond? Nobody knows. Will it illuminate who is trying to reach you and why? Undoubtedly. This idea will thrill privacy nuts, soothe paranoids and fuel anti-advertising types. It will also make advertisers in search of tighter targeting parameters happy. But it will probably never much matter to the vast majority of B2B targets Bizo engages who don't currently think this is a problem. Nonetheless knowing this information, a Netzien could fix wrong information or add new information to the cookie; thereby opting-in for more relevant ads or opting-out of advertising. The truly enlightened will feel much better about online advertising.Russ, who leads a business spun off by ZoomInfo 18 months ago, thinks that web surfers will have a "high degree of interaction" with transparent ads. He's aiming for 100% transparency and leveraging this idea to differentiate Bizo.com from other ad networks. In his mind, transparency is virtually a right. "If you use data to target ads," he argues "then your target customer should know about it, know what information you have about him or her, have the right to edit the information and the right to opt in or out." Consider several interesting ramifications and possibilities from transparent ads: 1. Customers Will Get a Voice. If you know who's after you; you can run toward or away from them. Knowing who is targeting you can drive closer customer engagement or prompt privacy and customer service complaints. Either way it moves advertising from passive serving to active customer interaction. 2. Competitive Analysis is Easier. Rather than pay ComScore zillions to track competitive spending, placement and creative, you simply read the ads served to sample customers in your target set. After a dozen ads, you'll have a pretty fair understanding of what the bad guys are up to. 3. Everything Will Feel Kosher. There's something liberating and beautiful about openness. Having everything above board will satisfy privacy advocates, expose more of the strategy behind advertising and possibly improve the ad industry's image. Even for the uninvolved and ambivalent, knowing who's advertising and why they're targeting you eliminates a few levels of paranoia and reminds people of the commercial relationships that underlie most of the economy. 4. Online Ads Will be More Like Online Dating. In practice, the two are hardy separable, but transparency will make it clear who likes you and who wants to be your new best friend. Consumers will actually have the choice of saying "Yes" or "No" to advertisers. This will force better creative targeting, more message testing and more CRM-type thinking. Today advertisers' desires are unknown to their target customers. In a transparent world, customers read, react and respond on equal footing. 5. Ads Will Work Better. Transparency will eliminate waste, filter out the troublemakers, improve targeting and ultimately yield a better ROI. In theory it will reduce noise in the system which will enhance signal reception.
Why Brands Are Embracing Haiti Is it me? Or have marketers jumped on the Haiti charity-tie bandwagon in huge numbers with amazing speed and intensity? Overnight every business—from local delis to national brands— seems to be brandishing the Haitian flag and figuring out ways to engage customers around funding relief activities. On one hand, the response from media and marketers is a beautiful thing, though I’m skeptical about how much of the cash will actually get to the point of delivery and help the poorest of the poor. From another perspective it’s a remarkable teachable moment; an unfortunate but unique and compelling opportunity to remind everyone that we are all connected and we are and should be our brothers’ keeper. And while I don’t remember as much immediate reaction to the tsunami, perhaps it paved the way and prepared brands to connect themselves to or capitalize on unanticipated philanthropic opportunities. I also suspect several fundamental changes have taken place in our markets and in the minds of our consumers that might be driving the charitable impulse. We Are Connected. Social media has provided an instant digital link that hundreds of millions have embraced. Popular sentiment and collective expectations are transmitted at the speed of light. Consensus on what is happening and what is the expected response is virtually immediate. People are voting and exercising their voices with a mouse click. We Want a Break. After two years of sustained recession and bad economic news, we’re beat up, mistrustful and expect everyone to cut us a break. Consumers expect deals, discounts and offers. Charitable tie-ins are just another promotional flavor and another new way to meet this consistent consumer demand. The emotion-charged novelty breaks the monotony of me-too offers and monkey-see monkey-do promotional offers. We’re Looking for Good Guys. When all the news is bleak and the papers are filled with daily revelations that our favorite politicians or celebrities are crooks, liars and perverts, brands have the opportunity to do well by doing good. We are burned out on bad news and desperately seeking a reason to believe, a confirmation that we can overcome our troubles and a glimpse of the inestimable human spirit. It’s a window of opportunity for brands to make us feel better. We Are Sick of Being Helpless. The economic crunch happened to us. We feel helpless in the face of powerful and mysterious global forces. Many of us feel the same about choices in domestic and foreign policy made by Obama and/or the Congress. Presenting your brand as an active “good guy” engages customers by speaking to their psychological needs and by helping them feel like they are doing something. Aligning your brand with a charity makes your customers active players who are instantly part of the solution. The tragedy in Haiti is of epic proportions compounded by the absolute lack of infrastructure or reliability in public institutions or political leaders. It will be interesting to see which brands grab a quick association with the relief effort and move on and which brands opt for sustaining associations. In either case, our customers’ expectations about brands have been permanently altered.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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