Direct marketing’s experience on opt out can benefit digital

Russell Parsons

There are many things direct marketers can teach their digital counterparts. Be it about developing targeted campaigns or efficient use of resources and budget, much can be learned from direct marketers. They can also teach their digital colleagues a thing or two about turning the threat of a regulatory crackdown into an opportunity.

Last week, information commissioner Christopher Graham warned digital marketers that they need to “wake up” to the implications of an upcoming ruling that will require them to gain consent from consumers before they take data used to develop targeted online ads from their computers.

The technique, described as a “cookie”, analyses consumer browsing habits for use in behavioral targeting. Privacy concerns, however, have led EU law-makers to introduce a consent requirement and opt-out that allows consumers to say “thanks but no thanks” to cookies.

In the UK, the IAB has been working with the DCMS and Information Commissioner’s Office for some time to find a way to ease the requirement into online ads developed in the UK.

The IAB is in the process of rolling out a pilot scheme with companies including Yahoo!, Microsoft and AOL that will see an icon appear by or in display ads that will offer information about online behavioral advertising and offer consumers the required opt-out.

There is likely to be concern among online advertisers and the companies that provide advertising solutions that such a requirement will lead to an avalanche of opt-outs and slow what has been a dizzying rise in the use, and return from behavioral targeting.

But they shouldn’t be so quick to fear the worse. As direct marketers have found out, it pays to accept regulatory scrutiny and find ways to make the best of what might seem on the face of it, a bad situation.

Direct marketers have been told for years that they must change their ways and stop blanket bombing poor unsuspected consumers with junk, as the channel’s detractors would describe it.

In response to both political and consumer pressure but mainly out of desire to get their house in order, a number of opportunities for consumers to opt-out of receiving mail and telephone calls were introduced in the form of the Mail and Telephone Preference Services, places where consumers can just say no.

Though well used, the introduction of these options did not lead to an en masse opt out. What they do, however, is ensure that customers feel empowered by the option to opt-out.

For direct marketers, opt-outs have also offered a chance to filter out the unwilling, and unresponsive. They also, therefore, improve targeting and return on investment.

So, digital marketers should embrace the developments and view the introduction of the directive as an opportunity to make a tool designed to improve targeting even more focused. Those that do not opt out will not only provide valuable browsing information but will have also given the green-light to be targeted.

The number of cookies might be reduced but those left will be a more valuable commodity.

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