A Pause in the Targeting Arms Race

At last May's iMedia Agency Summit in Austin, I offered up a dozen "Dead Internet Ideas," long-held beliefs and practices that - if left unquestioned and unchanged - would stifle the further intellectual development of online marketing. Probably the most controversial "dead idea" was the assumption that we have a "right to target" the consumer for the purpose of advertising.

To be clear, I wasn't saying that targeting in and of itself was wrong or that it should come to an end. Rather, that the underlying assumption that "because we can, therefore we may" was a very dangerous and self destructive idea. I believed then (and still do) that we as an industry have largely ignored any true value exchange with the consumer as we pursue ever more levels of data-driven targeting. Neither of our principal rationalizations for the targeting buildup (that it keeps the Internet "free" and that it brings consumers more useful advertising) withstands much scrutiny.

This week's Drift is proudly underwritten by Lotame. Crowd Control from Lotame helps publishers understand and segment their audiences, while providing industry-leading opt-out features designed to enhance the consumer privacy experience. To learn more about Lotame's vision for responsible data management, click here.

I'm reminded of this theme by two items I've read this week. First, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz announced this week that the federal government would seek to institute a do-not-track capability for consumers. Can it be done? Will it be pursued? Enforced? Don't know. But the industry response that I've so far sounds a lot like that which surrounded the last spring's "Boucher Bill" discussion: lots of kicking the can down the road. Whether or not FTC action is imminent, realistic or even workable is beside the point. We simply can't afford to whistle past the graveyard one more time on this issue. Read the next sentences carefully:

It's time our industry drives forward a data and targeting compact with consumers that is based on a real value exchange. Let's aim for something truly great, instead of just something good enough to keep the would-be regulators at bay. Let our ambition on this issue match our technical acumen.

The other item that prompted this post was Nancy Galanty's interview with internet pioneer Jaron Lanier on iMedia Connection. His book and the interview are much broader than the issues of this particular post, but I'll use two of his statements here and effectively give him the last word on this issue:

"You have to be realistic about what you can achieve when you are bringing technology into marketing. You have to be balanced. You have to live in the present, not in the future.....I think basically, somebody just (needs) to point out that we are on a path that won't work forever, and that we need to start thinking about alternate ways to do things."