Oh Big Brother, where art thou?

by Seth Hargrave on April 21, 2011

in Media

Online privacy.  These two words hurdle me into defense mode, conjuring up images of some hacker genius who has managed to steal my identity and now lives my second life somewhere in the Caribbean on a really big boat.  I have a feeling I am not alone in this thought.

While this is a valid concern in a certain sense, this isn’t necessarily what the FTC had in mind with its push to implement “Do Not Track” legislation.  A buzz among advertisers for some time now, it’s more simply about giving the consumer control – not necessarily a bad thing, but a hurdle for marketing nonetheless.

With last month’s release of IE9, Microsoft has officially taken the lead in browsers providing users with Do Not Track options, and Apple, Mozilla, and Google have all followed suit in some capacity.

The good news?  Buzz surrounding online privacy is bringing to the forefront what savvy marketers have known forever: Data is king.

Far from being a prophet, I do firmly believe that two very important trends will come to the surface as Do Not Track diffuses into the digital space.

First, on the analytics front, developers and SEO experts alike will be forced to rely on sample data sets rather than have full visibility to their entire audience.  Nothing ground breaking here, but it’s a fact that marketers have relied on audience sampling for eons.  Focus groups, random surveys, and the like have all been driving ad strategy in the agency world since its inception.

Although the FTC and some legislators probably don’t want to admit it, even with Do Not Track a reality, it’s going to be practically impossible for all stakeholders to fully buy in to no audience tracking, and at least some empirical data will be available to marketers.  Knowing this, data will essentially become an even hotter commodity – further enabling those that can master SEO and analytics to enterprise their skills to the client’s end objective.

Secondly, digital advertising will split dynamically between technical media buying and strategic media buying.  The fundamental shift among top online advertisers the last few years has been to stop buying directly with publishers or networks and to begin bidding on display placements via ad exchanges and demand side platforms.  With fewer data sets available, these DSPs and exchanges will further refine themselves to allow hyper-targeting to the audiences that are making themselves available to track.  What this means – higher rates for far better targeting, and a vast need for better front-end strategy and execution.

Thinking about the bigger picture this would create a second commodity to the digital advertising world – skilled media planners and buyers.  In other words, there needs to be a man behind the curtain rather than just an algorithm plugged into an ad platform.  The process, research, analysis, optimization and common sense that go into executing a digital media plan through completion will become a widely sought-after skill set for advertisers and agencies alike.

So, while many online marketers fear the implications of wide-spread adoption of Do Not Track, I say let’s get on with it.  In an industry that thrives on innovation, it’s my belief that it will only make us better at what we do and much smarter about how we do it.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Morgan Siem April 21, 2011 at 11:38 am

My take on Do Not Track is that it’s become popular out of people’s fear of the unknown. People are largely unaware of which data is being tracked, who is tracking it, and what they’re using it for. A simple education on what data is being used to what end might alleviate some of the fear and encourage more people to opt-in to data tracking. Personally, I disable Do Not Track features because I understand the personal benefits of being tracked and targeted.

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