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A Piece of the PII

Alan Chappell
A Piece of the PII Alan Chappell

A few weeks ago, Jim Meskauskas wrote an article titled Embarrassment of Niches, which discussed ways the fragmentation of mass media has affected online marketers. Fragmentation makes it more difficult for advertisers to reach their target audience. One solution to this challenge, as outlined by Meskauskas, is for marketers to use multiple niche media (cable, Internet, video games, etc.) to reach significant numbers of their desired demographic.

Another solution, which is increasingly gaining popularity, is behavioral marketing. The premise behind behavioral marketing is that, rather than trying to find the coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic, and using age as a proxy for say, interest in music, advertisers can target consumers who’ve shown an actual interest in music. Of course, behavioral marketing involves tracking consumer activities across a single site or multiple sites. And whenever online user movements are tracked, there are privacy concerns.

Most of us can still remember the controversy caused by DoubleClick’s plan to combine demographic and behavioral data a few years ago. Needless to say, that attempt was not well received by consumers. And given the increased sensitivity of consumers regarding issues of privacy -- as evidenced by some of the furor over Google’s Gmail  -- behavioral marketing will undoubtedly receive even more scrutiny this time around.

I tend to view privacy as matters of transparency and positioning. Yes, companies need to be open with consumers regarding what they are doing with their data. But it is equally important to articulate why consumers should give up some of their privacy -- i.e. what's in it for them. In other words, it's not just about doing the right thing. It's about convincing consumers that the benefits they're receiving are extremely valuable, while allaying their privacy concerns.

I recognize that consumers are not the end customers for behavioral marketing companies. But the fact remains that if consumers get spooked by what they perceive these companies are doing, publishers will walk away just like they did in the late '90s.

So with that in mind, I wanted to take a look at some of the privacy issues surrounding behavioral marketing. I spoke with executives at the following companies: Revenue Science, Claria, 24/7 Real Media, and Tacoda. Bill Gossman from Revenue Science wrote his own thoughts on the topic last week in Changing the Privacy Paradigm. Here’s the Chapell View on those privacy issues.

Are they collecting personally identifiable information?

The first privacy issue concerns Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Back in the day, many thought that the combination of offline demographics with online surfing behavior represented either the Mecca or the Holy Grail of online marketing -- depending on which metaphor your VP of marketing espoused at the time. Conversely, as far as consumers were concerned, the combination of demographic and behavioral information more closely resembled an Oppenheimer device than something sent from heaven.

Many of the next generation of behavioral marketing firms have completely avoided the issue of PII. This stems in part from their recognition of the inherent risks in dealing with PII. But many of these firms don’t feel that adding PII would significantly upgrade their value proposition. For example, Revenue Science indicated that anonymous behavioral data is enough for marketers to reach their intended audience, and therefore see no need to collect PII. Similarly, Claria doesn’t collect any PII on its 40 million users. And in a way, that’s a shame. If I were an advertiser, I’d want to get a better understanding of who their 40 million users are.

Other behavioral marketing firms are dabbling in PII, although they leave it to individual publishers to collect, store and use their own PII as per each sites’ privacy policy. For example, one of Tacoda’s clients used its registration data in combination with behavioral data in order to further qualify an audience for a local event hosted by a retailer. Similarly, many of 24/7 Real Media’s 700 network sites collect PII, though none of that data is shared across sites.

While there are significant rewards to be reaped by adding PII into the marketing mix, there are equally significant risks. If any one of the sites using Tacoda’s Audience Match or 24/7 Real Media’s Insight Act were to experience a security leak, an error in judgment, or something else resembling an inappropriate use of PII, both Tacoda and 24/7 Real Media could take a significant PR hit -- even if they had nothing to do with the privacy gaffe. Remember, this is an issue of perception, so if one player in the chain screws up, everyone else could easily be tarred with the same brush.

Are any data being shared across multiple sites?

The second privacy issue concerns tracking behaviors and sharing data across multiple sites. The more sites that consumers are tracked on means a more complete picture of user behaviors, which is good for advertisers. However, tracking behavior across multiple sites creates potential complexities. And those complexities increase with the number of sites that belong to the network. For example, how does one track my movements across some 700 sites without revealing some PII to each of the sites?

Most of the behavioral marketing firms have figured out a solution to this challenge and have at least started to build networks. For example 24/7 Real Media has set up a series of behavioral categories that apply to all sites on its network. The behavioral categories, known as segments, are combined with anonymous cookie data in much the same way that ad servers determine which browser or operating system a particular computer is using. So, 24/7 Real Media can tell that an anonymous user visited the travel section of three different sites and send him an ad from Expedia in much the same way as its ad servers have traditionally optimized ads based upon frequency.

But do consumers understand what’s in it for them?

The most significant challenge facing these firms is creating a credible value proposition with consumers. Consumers must perceive that the value they receive from behavioral marketing outweighs the cost of the privacy they are being asked to give up. Companies like Claria and WhenU have the most clearly defined value proposition to consumers -- in exchange for allowing the companies to track their behaviors online and serve them ads, those consumers receive approximately $30 worth of software. Maybe some of you don’t think that’s an equal trade, but I’m certainly not going to argue with the 70 million or so who’ve reached a different conclusion.

The real question is whether they can maintain and increase their user bases. Both Claria and WhenU experience a high degree of turnover. So while consumers may understand the value proposition, it remains to be seen whether they’ll embrace it over the long term.

Many other behavioral marketing firms are in a challenging position as their value proposition to consumers begins and ends with relevancy. In other words, in exchange for allowing Revenue Science, Tacoda or 24/7 Real Media to anonymously track their movements, consumers receive ads that are more in line with their current interests and needs. Is that enough?

Probably not. What consumers really want are fewer ads. For example, Dynamic Logic's recent AdReaction Survey indicated that 70 percent of the respondents believe that they receive too many pop-up ads. Similarly, the recent Forrester report describes how consumers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ads they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Consumers are angry, and sometimes irrational. But if the behavioral marketing firms can be perceived as offering a solution to the problem of ad clutter, consumers might be more willing to trade on some of their privacy. 

Alan Chapell is founder and president of Chapell & Associates, a privacy and data collection strategies consultancy. With 13 years of sales, marketing and legal experience in direct marketing and e-commerce environments, Chapell has worked with start-up companies and established international brands. Prior to founding Chapell & Associates, Chapell was with email marketing firms Yesmail, a division of infoUSA and Cheetahmail, now a division of Experian, and he helped create a  product from DoubleClick’s research studies measuring the brand impact of online advertising.

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Most all of the third party ad servers provide the same kinds of tools and services. They can take your media research, feed it into the "machine," and kick out an RFP list. Once the particulars of your RFP are set up, the third party ad server can even be used to send those RFPs out to the list of sites. Sites can then feed their responses into the "machine."

Once a plan is established, the sites in the system can have IOs generated for them and sent.

Atlas DMT's Media Console and DoubleClick's MediaVisor are both media planning, buying and campaign management workflow solutions that seek to simplify a process that has far more transactional elements than any other media.

The problem with systems like these is that they can never be entirely customizable to the needs of every agency and every campaign. But in a time-crunched environment, the tools can be useful.

What we still need
There are so many moving parts to the online media planning and buying process. It has been my experience that more than half of the time spent on a single campaign is exhausted managing matters such as accurate inventory counts by placement, or by creative before a campaign launches. This is not to mention ensuring these same kinds of accuracies when inventory is moved during optimization, as well as, finally, making sure that delivery versus contract is accurately reconciled on the back end for the sake of billing.

Front-end inventory management and post-buy financial reconciliation both eat up enormous amounts of time that could be better spent converting the data generated by all of this wonderful technology at our disposal into information, and translating that information into knowledge.

But with all the circuitry that can provide us with better living within the realm of media planning and buying, a question to ask is, could all this reliance on technology be eroding our ability to think creatively about our clients' communications challenges?

More on this next week.

Media Strategies Editor Jim Meskauskas is vice president and director of online media for ICON International, Inc., an Omnicom Company. Read full bio.

Welch's "Pass the Glass"

Between Nov. 26 and Dec. 23 last year, Welch's tapped its social audience to help create "the world's longest Vine video" via its "Pass the Glass" campaign. (Grapes? Vines? Get it?) The campaign encouraged people to shoot six-second Vines of themselves receiving a glass of juice, taking a sip, and passing it on to someone else. Those that posted the videos to their social channels with the hashtag #ShareWhatsGood were incorporated into the continuing Vine on Welch's site. Better yet, the brand tied in a charity angle by promising that for every Vine contributed, it would donate a bottle of its juice to the families helped by the nonprofit hunger relief program Family-to-Family.

You can see the resulting Vines here.

Lay's: "Do Us a Flavor"

In 2013, Lay's crowdsourced "Do Us a Flavor" campaign brought us Cheese Garlic Bread potato chips. That was the fan-suggested concoction that ultimately beat out finalists Chicken & Waffles and Sriracha flavors in an online competition that drew more than 1 million votes on Facebook and Twitter and nearly 3.8 million consumer-generated flavors.

With that kind of response, you're probably not surprised to hear that Lay's is at it again. Earlier this year, the brand solicited flavor ideas via its website, with the finalist flavors slated to hit store shelves this summer. At that point, the social voting to determine the winning flavor (the originator of which will win $1 million) will be open.

This year, flavor nominations got goofy on the Lay's site, with delectable flavor suggestions including the below gems. Kudos to the brand for embracing the weirdness that comes with opening yourself up to such possibilities.

(Image source)

Grey Poupon: Crowd-sourced Emmy concession speech

Last year, Grey Poupon's TV spot "The Chase" earned the brand an Emmy nomination. It didn't win. (Canon did.) But the brand didn't let that rain on its parade. Instead, it decided to crowdsource a concession speech from its fans on Facebook and Twitter. The resulting nearly seven minute video is currently suspiciously absent from YouTube, though you can catch the beginning on Creativity. At that length, you might imagine the entire thing wasn't comedy gold. But damned if the brand didn't stay true to its promise that "this concession speech won't end until everyone's said their thanks."

(Image source)

Honda: #LoveToday

For Valentine's Day, Honda decided to show its love for its customers through music. It asked users to post photos or videos to Instagram http://instagram.com/p/kZmM-1wha5/ of what they love about the holiday and tag them #LoveToday. Select responses were to be incorporated into the lyrics of the track used in the Honda Civic "Today Is Pretty Great" campaign featuring the band Vintage Trouble, and it was set to appear on a limited-edition heart-shaped LP that would be given away to 500 users. Honda promoted the campaign via Facebook, and, notably, the brand tapped into the relatively new Instagram Direct feature to notify users that they had won. These direct messages were accompanied by a special Valentine's Day photo of the 2014 Honda Civic.

(Image source)

ERV: Crowdsourced Instagram collage

Last year, Swedish insurance company ERV launched a cool competition (perhaps cooler than insurance deserves). It crowdsourced travel photos from Instagrammers and used them to compile a collage of a city skyline on the site "Semesterjakten" ("holiday hunt"). The pixelated image became clearer as more images were added, and the visitor who was able to identify the destination in the collage had an opportunity to win a trip to that city.

(Image source)

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of L.A. Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Grey Poupon image source here.


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