Saturday, September 24, 2011

You've Got Spam

For as long as there has been online advertising, there's been the promise of laser like precision in the delivery of online banners.  Instead of excitement, the technology that would finally make "right time, right place" a reality was cast in a threatening light.  Sure enough, its clumsy debut was alarming.  I remember when I first caught Gmail, like a snooping mailman, peeking at my emails.  It was creepy when the couch I saw on West Elm's website started following me around the internet.  By far the most disturbing moment was the day when Specific Media, without any irony, hit me with banners that touted its company's superior ad targeting technology.  Was it possible that Specific Media knew that I was a digital media buyer?  I wouldn't put it past them, Specific Media is the same company who invented the pop-up ad.

The clumsy arrival of targeting created a paradox.  As an industry professional, I paid close attention to the targeted banners in the hopes they would outperform and make my clients happy.  So when Specific Media seemed to figure out that I was a media buyer, a part of me nodded knowingly. On the other hand, it aroused some serious paranoia.  What else did advertisers know about me?  In 2009, the government took notice and urged the online advertising industry to self-regulate its use of targeting.  

Today, not much has changed.  Over the years, targeted ads have indeed outperformed and brands have begun to capitalize and show positive ROIs. As a result, selling consumer data is big business.  But, this booming marketplace of buying and selling consumer data still largely takes place without consumers’ consent, so privacy issues persist.  Some start-ups have tackled this problem and tried to give consumers more control over their data. Still, the industry needs to do more in order to preclude a profound consumer backlash.

What’s the creepiest way an advertiser has targeted you?  

See More:  What the Online Ad Business Could Learn from Netflix, Amazon and Pandora

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