Ad Tech: Can You Explain What You Do?

Will Doherty is business development director for Netmining, a provider of display targeting solutions that harness real-time customer intelligence. 

Want to gauge feelings about online advertising? Ask yourself if you’re comfortable telling your parents how digital advertising works and discussing your role in the ecosystem.

My father worked in marketing and traditional merchandizing, and has collected personally identifiable information like addresses and phone numbers from data companies to drive awareness and sales. Yet to him, the concept of an online cookie is creepy. He even questioned the legality. This is someone working in marketing and is well versed in traditional media targeting tactics. It seems like the rules for traditional marketing do not apply to the space online. Is it because we sit behind a screen when we browse and conduct online transactions? Does the lack of a physical presence give the general consumer population a misdirected sense of anonymity online?

Online, we’re in an era where the industry’s fear of transparency is as great as consumers’ fears about the use of their data. Even when survey after survey reveals that a majority of consumers actually prefer ads tailored to their interests, online advertising has the dubious distinction of being reviled and ignored at the same time. This is largely because online advertisers have failed to communicate what and why we do what we do. While “Mad Men” has made advertising look glamorous again, none of the “Mad Men” hip factor has been passed on to programmatic display (despite what Turn would have you believe). The earnest goal that we have as online programmatic advertisers is to get to the point where we demonstrate real value to the consumers with a high level of transparency that changes perceptions.

However, any negative mindset is the industry’s fault, because we are not overly explicit and upfront about our business. The industry hides behind privacy policies and jargon, appeases market watch groups with just enough action instead of embracing it. Nearly everyone working in digital understands people inherently don’t love advertising or, more to the point, they loathe the “idea” of advertising. But I will always argue advertising at its best provides as much value and entertainment as any other art form.

Digital needs to tout how we advertise and how we do it effectively. Can we get to the day where someone will talk about how they were really lucky to be served an ad that had just the right deal they were looking for? Or helped them plan a better vacation? Not when online companies like Mozilla try to dictate how consumers should feel and harm the lifeblood that makes the Internet free and exciting. There has always been a trade-off online, even in traditional media like TV, where advertising accompanies the content.

The value in advertising is relevance for the consumer, that’s how we can make advertising better. We need to build up advertising’s role as a trusted adviser to consumers. To get there, of course, consumers need to share their data as part of the trade-off. Data needs to be disclosed to achieve relevancy and honesty. Otherwise, consumers need to be prepared to pay for content or receive completely irrelevant (more annoying) ads that they will never be able to opt out from seeing.

Image by Gabriman via Flickr

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