Enough scaremongering – we need to start telling consumers why behavioural targeting is good for them

Mike ZeederbergIn this guest posting, Zuni’s Mike Zeederberg argues that the industry needs to start selling the public the benefits of behavioural targeting.

It seems like every week there’s another scare-mongering story in the Sydney Morning Herald about the dangers of advertising tracking and profiling users online – we’re all “Cookie Monsters” trading your data for online profits.  

The countless newspaper articles tell the story of how advertisers are going to track your every move, and somehow use this data to invade your privacy, track down your email address and use their Jedi mind tricks to make you buy products you don’t need.

The current state of play

What I’m amazed about (factual inaccuracies and complete misunderstanding of behavioural targeting aside), is that we as an industry don’t seem to be doing much in way of response. We are sitting back and letting this wave of fear mongering build completely unopposed, waiting for it to wipe out the best tools marketers have had in years, with a tsunami of privacy regulations.

Advertiser benefits

For advertisers, sophisticated behavioural targeting is nirvana. No wasted advertising dollars paying for eyeballs that have no interest, no need to try and guess your market demographics or use other pseudo measures to try and target – just use technology to ensure you’re only talking to the right people at the right time. If they buy, you stop spending money advertising to them.

Consumer benefits

What everyone seems to be forgetting is what that means for the consumer. Behavioural targeting, done well, has the potential to be the best thing that ever happened to the internet for consumers. It’ll cut out the junk and improve the experience. Hell, it already does – when Amazon first launched its “People who bought this also bought that” feature, everybody raved about it. Consumers love seeing “related stories” next to articles they’ve read and “currently trending” leaderboards of popular stories.

Imagine you are the average consumer, how do you feel about advertising?

“I hate advertising – a bunch of muppets trying to sell me stuff I don’t want. However, I like free content and free services (especially Facebook!)– and I vaguely understand that my free content is somehow funded by advertising.

“I never click on ads, because they’re always from junk I don’t need – six tips to a flat belly, or a new car I can’t afford. I occasionally click on links that catch my interest, if I happen to be researching for that subject at the time, but it’s few and far between.”

If you’re a bloke, what if you never had to see a feminine hygiene ad again, and no more wedding magazines. What if the ads you saw were relevant to the subject you’re currently researching, or the video ad you’re forced to watch before your content is for a cool new beer instead of some low-fat yoghurt? What if instead of actively searching for content, it’s automatically delivered to you, on every site you visit, refined to suit your preferences, without you needing to do anything?

“How much does it cost? What do I need to do to get it”

Nothing at all

“So I don’t have to sign-up? I don’t have to give my email address or mobile number? Excellent!”

Let’s take action

As an industry, we’ve let the media scaremonger consumers about behavioural targeting and have spent our time apologising and self regulating. What we should be doing is going out and telling consumers how much better Behavioural Targeting is going to make their world.

I think it’s time we used some of these (highly feared) collective marketing smarts and started a “hearts and minds” campaign to win back the ground on behavioural targeting. Let’s educate people that this technology will mean that we have to interrupt them less often and take over their news stories less frequently because we can make sure when we do put ads in front of them, that they are relevant. Let’s tell them about how much BETTER this is going to make their surfing experience, rather than letting the media scare them into turning off their cookies “just in case”.

From a regulatory perspective, lets suggest policies around enforcing advertising smarts using exactly this type of technology, rather than stripping it away leading us back to the spray and pray approach. If we drive down frequency and drive up relevance, and show the user that we’re doing this, we won’t NEED an opt-out – after all, Amazon wouldn’t dream of putting an opt out on “Customers who bought this also bought”, and as a consumer we won’t want one.

Mike Zeederberg is the founder and MD of digital agency Zuni



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