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Policy / DCN perspectives on policy, law, and legislative news surrounding digital content

Trust, transparency and the New York Yankees

May 12, 2016 | By Chris Pedigo, SVP Government Affairs – DCN @Pedigo_Chris

According a recent report in the New York Times, the majority of new online advertising revenue—85%—will go to two companies: Google and Facebook. While these companies have consumer-facing services, the reason they dominate the digital advertising ecosystem is because of the technology and algorithms they employ as third parties. Third parties collect data about consumers yet have no direct relationship with them. In addition, those people usually have no idea that their data is being collected.

When you consider that direct response ads represent nearly two thirds of digital advertising and these companies only get paid when consumers click on ads it’s no wonder we see the digital experience dominated by annoying, intrusive, and crappy ads.

And how are consumers reacting to this situation? As TRUSTe has noted, clearing cookies is still the primary method employed by consumers to protect their privacy. However, clearing cookies has detrimental effects to the user experience such as requiring consumers to log in every time they revisit a site which then makes the stalking, creepy ads come back even more. Yet they still clear cookies because it’s one of the main tools they know about to prevent being tracked. In this dysfunctional dynamic, big data is being used to drive down costs of serving targeted ads rather than drive up relevance to the consumer.

A few years ago, consumers started activating their Do Not Track (DNT) signals in an effort to express a choice, even though there was no industry standard yet. As Doc Searls plotted out, the number of DNT signals declined at the same time that the number of consumers with ad blockers started climbing. It’s not a coincidence – consumers have been looking for easy ways to express choice. If this continues, publishers won’t be able to fund quality content like this piece about the early season slide of the Yankees.

It’s interesting that our members are having some success asking consumers to turn off their ad blockers in order to access the content they love. The conversation goes something like this:

Website owner: Hi loyal reader, would you pretty please turn off your ad blocker or whitelist this site? We need advertising revenue to pay for quality journalism.

About 40% of consumers: Sure! I love you guys.

The remaining 60% of consumers: Meh. I’m gonna go look elsewhere for that story about Trump. I really, really hate those annoying ads on those other crappy sites I visit.

My take on this is that consumers understand premium experiences and are willing to view advertising in exchange. But, the value proposition gets out of whack when there’s no transparency for the consumer and the experience is poor.

Meanwhile, advertisers aren’t happy either. As the ANA pointed out, $7.2 billion was lost to fraud last year. They’ve been paying for ads that aren’t even viewable. There are also huge concerns about the inability to fully document where all of their digital advertising dollars are going. In short, there’s a lack of transparency and trust for advertisers. Sound familiar?

So, how does our industry find its footing again? We’ve got to be more clear with consumers about the value proposition and provide them with easy ways to express choice over ubiquitous data collection. By putting consumers first, we also force the issue on ad fraud, viewability and accountability. Every company involved in the digital advertising supply chain would have to justify how it’s adding to the overall value proposition. They would need to “put in more value” than they “take out” – the best way to build trust.

The FCC recently proposed privacy rules for broadband providers that aim to give consumers more control. The problem is that this only applies to ISPs – not all of the other entities that relentlessly track consumers around the web. And, government regulation often becomes outdated very quickly – market solutions or real industry self-regulation are far more able to adapt to new business models and practices. Maybe the FCC proceeding will lead to a new conversation within industry.

With the growing market of Internet of Things, immersive experiences and connected world we live in, the strains on trust between advertisers, consumers and publishers are only going to get worse. We need to find the right balance of providing consumers with transparency and real choices. Consumers are looking for a better experience. Advertisers are demanding fairness. And, I would like to live in a world where I can read all about how badly the Yankees are playing.