Digital marketers can’t look past transparency


There is huge consumer confusion about online data. From social networking pages to cookies that suggest things to buy based on shopping habits, the average daily online consumption garners more personal data than the Census form.

For too long, online companies have been furtively harbouring data about users and apart from the more tech-savvy most did not even realise it had been occurring.

With product placement broadcasters must display a logo if a paid for reference is to occur, publishers must clearly display “advertorial” for advertising features – why should online be any different?

That is the thinking behind the proposed changes to the EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive which will require marketers to obtain consent from visitors to their site to store and retrieve cookies – the technique which stores information such as passwords and browsing habits.

The IAB is now in the process of rolling out a pilot scheme with major online media companies including AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! to feature an icon by or in display ads that will offer customers an opt-out option regarding the collection of data from their computers.

The industry is worried the directive could slow the growth in behavioural advertising.

But the changes to the EU’s Directive do not mean advertising cannot be behavioural.

Not every online consumer will opt out. And this number will be further reduced if the industry joins together to educate these consumers about the real benefit of online advertising.

Earlier this week Rob Blake, vice president of sales for AOL Advertising told me the reform will actually protect consumers and make them more aware of the benefits of online advertisings.

He says: “The industry must work to make it more clear where advertising is coming from and why consumers are receiving it.”

But he adds that education will be a challenge. The “opt-in” legislation already exists in the US, but a large portion of people were not aware what it was when it was introduced.

“It will be a challenge to ensure we get the messaging absolutely correct.”

The EU directive will stop online advertisers treating online consumers like suckers.

The UK Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said earlier this week, businesses need to “wake up” and start thinking about how they will meet the requirements of the new law.

I agree, advertisers need to “wake up” and stop relying on display and using cookies as the metric when it comes to online marketing.

Cookies do not mean a consumer has paid attention. Click-throughs do not mean a purchase. Agencies and ad networks need to reconsider the language they use when reporting apparent campaign “success” back to clients.

Online advertising needs a shake-up if businesses are to continue to gather information about users.

Digital advertising needs to reflect the way consumers really act online, rather than relying on old-fashioned guess-work. It needs to be as valuable to the end user as it is to the advertiser.

Advertising needs to become more social, with the Facebook “like” button an increasingly used tool. There should be increased use of long-form content too. Consumers will gladly offer their information if they are receiving something valuable in return.

Online advertisers must stop using clandestine techniques and increase consumer awareness about data privacy in order to maximise results. The cookie is set to crumble.

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