Are Targeted Ads Worth the Privacy Price? You Betcha!

Tom Devenport’s question made it to the HBR “Future of Retail” forum. He asks the question if marketers are headed in the right direction with this whole online targeting thing? Let’s break it down.

The price of privacy is $0 and there is nothing we can do about it. So there you go. That’s my first argument.

Second, let’s not confuse the idea of precision targeting with the myopic vision and poor execution of the media companies. Speed of technical innovation is overwhelming for everyone especially people in the “push marketing” world. They are stuck and that’s because they are in “push marketing” to begin with.

Most of the marketer are still drinking the Kool-aid media companies offer (impressions and share-of-voice crap.)

Now Let’s consider a consumer. Me. 38 year old; not one of those millennials that everyone’s so worried about; just a good old marketable consumer. I am driving back home in my car. Tired from work. I have some XM radio channel on. And all of a sudden a very annoying voice tries to sell me a mattress. A mattress!!! It boils my blood. I look at the radio and here is what I want to yell at it: “I  don’t need freakin’ mattress. I have one. I just bought one of those expensive temperpedics. You should know that. My iPhone would know that. My iPhone knows a lot of stuff. Why am I paying for this radio?” Can you imagine they repeat the 800 number three times. It feels like getting water-boarded.  Who calls that 800 number after going through such torture. Anyway, I, 38 years old married male, want targeted ads and it is not creepy to me. It was …. but not anymore.

Technology will finally figure it out. It already has for the smart ones. Do you think Google is a just search engine? It is the answer to your question. It is “targeted ads that are worth your privacy plus more”. They work. You know why? because they are not “push advertising”. They are on-demand. The user asks for the ad and the user gets it.

Lastly, I’d like to point out that you have examples of Bing and its targeting based on demographics like age, gender, location and activity. wo wo wo. Time out. Age and gender are very different from online activity and location. You are mixing demographic targeting with contextual targeting. Demographic targeting is unreliable and contextual targeting is still untapped in my opinion. We have not even scratched the surface of contextual marketing.

Bottom-line,  your skepticism is understandable but it reflects the growing pains of  marketing as it moves from being predominantly “push advertising” to the new world order. (Recommended reading: The Thank You Economy.)

Keep on expressing your ideas while the kids in the dorms keep proving us wrong.