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What's Your BT Contingency Plan?

What's Your BT Contingency Plan? Tom Hespos
I knew the recent IE/Do Not Track controversy reminded me of something.

For those unfamiliar, Microsoft was toying with the idea of having users of the new Internet Explorer send a Do Not Track signal by default.  And Wired reported yesterday that the controversy is apparently over, as new proposed versions of the Do Not Track specifications call for explicit consent of the user to send a Do Not Track signal.

So the logic goes like this.  If Microsoft defaults to Do Not Track, its users haven’t given explicit consent and online behavioral advertisers can simply ignore the non-compliant signal.  Microsoft is expected to comply with the spec.

As I said, this reminded me of something.

In May of 1997, browser makers were toying with the idea of blocking cookies by default.  At the time, I had talked to a developer who had seen early browser versions.  He was under the impression that browsers would ship with cookie-blocking turned on.  Naturally, I freaked out.

Yes, the silly 24-year-old me bought it hook, line and sinker.  My frantic post to the Online Advertising Discussion List didn’t exactly calm the situation.  Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and someone was able to confirm that when the browsers shipped, they would allow cookies by default.  And I was posting a mea culpa the next day.

Granted, adhering to Do Not Track and disallowing cookies are two very different things.  Regardless of where you fall, opinion-wise, on whether Do Not Track is even feasible, there’s one very important takeaway from all of this controversy:

It’s possible for behavioral targeting to go away with the flip of a switch.

That switch can take the form of legislation in the U.S., a popular browser plugin, new browser technology or in any number of other forms.  What form it takes doesn’t matter as much as having a contingency plan in place, just in case some of your favorite targeting methods can no longer be implemented, thanks to new technology or new laws.

I first raised the notion of contingency plans as one of my first columns of 2010.  That piece dealt with the notion of losing third-party cookies for targeting purposes entirely. And if you haven’t already, you should be thinking about what your digital marketing plans look like in various scenarios, up to and including that Chaos Scenario:

  • If Do Not Track starts to fly, and is adopted quickly, how does that affect things like targeting tactics and potential reach on your brand display plans?

  • If third-party cookies were disallowed for tracking purposes, what would your solution look like for attributing DR results?

  • Do other tactics have enough scale, such that they can replace Behavioral Targeting if, for whatever reason, that needs to happen?

If you haven’t thought about these things yet, the time is now.

Tom Hespos is President of New York agency Underscore Marketing. He is a frequent contributor to industry trade publications and has been writing a regular column about online marketing and advertising since March of 1998. His clients include Wyeth...

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