The End Of Privacy… The Beginning Of Personalization

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Marketers are at a precarious crossroads (whether they know it or not).

In my latest business book, CTRL ALT Delete, I lay out five movements that have fundamentally changed the brand forever (that most businesses are doing little – to nothing – about). One of these major movements is something I call, Sex With Data (with a hat-tip to Avinash Kaushik, the digital marketing evangelist for Google and author of the bestselling books, Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0). In this chapter, I also identify that one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today is their ability (or inability) to better explain to consumers the chasm that exists between privacy (knowing a lot of personal information) in contrast to personalization (knowing what people are doing online to create a better experience for them). Those who argue that these are simple semantics are completely missing the bigger picture. Amazon‘s ability to create such a highly personalized experience is core to their retail success (and consumer satisfaction), but as the company begins to roll out their Amazon Media platform, the world will be better able to see what happens when a company understands so much about their consumer, that all of the advertising associated with the experience will – at the very least – be highly relevant (if not substantially more transactional than most of the online advertising that we’re exposed to). My bet is that if Amazon plays its cards right, it will have capabilities as personalized and profound as Google’s AdWords.

But what about the rest of the Web?

Tracking is such a contentious issue that no matter how anti-tracking a marketer may be, eyebrows will be raised by the mere association of the profession to the action. Yes, it has become that dire. Every day, more and more traditional media outlets are warning about the nefarious actions of marketers in capturing all of our children’s information, in an effort to abduct them and force them into an international sex slave ring (ok, I made that last part up). But it’s true. When people see how their online usage is being near-freely traded on the digital market, it’s a far hop, skip and a jump to think about how much more personal information they would take (and abuse), if offered. Cookies used to be a tasty treat, now we’re all worried about our digital cookies and what crumbs we are leaving behind in an effort to use more cool free stuff like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

It’s time to come clean.

Did you know that Google accounts for close to a third of the worldwide online advertising revenue? I’ll wait while you pick your jaw up off of the floor. It’s true. So, how would you feel if Google did away with the cookie – as we have known it to date – and introduced a little something called AdID? That is what USA Today is reporting in the article titled, Google may ditch ‘cookies’ as online ad tracker. From the news item: "Google… is developing an anonymous identifier for advertising, or AdID, that would replace third-party cookies as the way advertisers track people’s Internet browsing activity for marketing purposes… [it] would be transmitted to advertisers and ad networks that have agreed to basic guidelines, giving consumers more privacy and control over how they browse the Web… on condition of anonymity." It’s not hard to imagine the online squabbling that this is creating, as online advertising associations, ad networks, media professionals and more worry about how much more significant power and information this would give Google (and how this might affect the financial growth of their own businesses). Granted, I am an unabashed Google fan boy, but I would embrace this type of initiative, because it answers to a higher calling (hopefully). It removes the privacy issue (hopefully… and if done well) and brings the true power and glory of the Internet and online advertising to life: the ability to generate, distribute and engage in much more personalized advertising as a way to compliment the user’s experience. Say what you will about Google’s advertising platform, it is hard to argue that it is one of (if not THE) most efficient advertising platforms that exists. From simplicity and creative to distribution and consumer adoption. As much as people say that they hate advertising, the most cynical of consumers will admit that Google’s solution is the "best of the worst," if pushed for an opinion.

Performance marketing for all.

Whether or not it’s Google’s AdID or something else, as a marketer we need to both applaud and get on board with these types of initiatives. We need these types of transparent and powerful solutions. It could lead us down a magical path, where brands are using this information to better segment and create advertising that… actually works! (believe it or not). Imagine that? The original promise of banner advertising – when it was first introduced – was all about putting an ad in front of a person that is relevant, and that the consumers could interact with. Sadly, the bulk of those ads sucked so bad, and were so annoying that users tuned them out. As an industry, we started calling them display advertising, because of the basic impressions that they could generate (yes, we went back to eyeballs and branding). What if this idea of personalized (without the worry of breaching any privacy) brings us full circle back to that original promise? What if Google (or someone else) builds a better mousetrap, that helps advertisers better understand how to personalize their creative without any transference of personal data? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Imagine, if as an industry, we could get behind this type of solution. Imagine what could be…


  1. Now that I have recovered from the Ryan Holiday and Walmart expose down to business. One falsehood you bring up is that the ‘display’ ads sucked. If you ask people to rank where ‘Engaging with the Brands they love’ ranks…it probably is in the lowest 5% of daily activities. Not sure they sucked as much as ‘We can find you online if we want to talk don’t call me I will call you’ That hasn’t changed.
    But for tracking etc. Good for Google. The Economist has a very explicit policy on cookies and they do not allow any ad networks to place cookies on their reader’s browser. And whenever people are asked about relevance they prefer discovery vs seeing things tailored to them.
    Lastly tech savvy folks like me don’t have to worry. I have been using Firefox with Ad Blocker for years and years dating to way before I switched from B2B sales to marketing. I use no scripts so no networks run without me seeing. You have 8 running. I only allowed 3 access to my browser. When I leave this page any cookies you placed will destruct (another great firefox add on).
    So the tools are there. Chrome was actually created to fight a lot of this because Google doesn’t want their ads disabled. I don’t even see AdWords when I Google! So maybe people should be made aware. Given tools to use and decide on their own whether to use them?

  2. A very squiggly, double digital edged sword of a topic tracking. The antidote to tracking is an automated and editable mechanism to confirm and verify attribution, I believe Botsman calls it ‘reputation capital’. This would engender ‘pronoia’ (oh Mondo 2000 where art thou?) and the effect would be like the Santa in Miracle on 34th Street. As far as the rest of tracking, look no further than Marissa Meyer buying tumblr. Tumblr is a NSFW solar system, at last check there are, ‘As of August 8, 2013, Tumblr hosts over 130.5 million blogs, the future of privacy…understands privacy, it’s the elephant everyone knows is in every room in one way or another. So rather than holding things up with a hypothetical speed bump (pay bills on time so your iphone synched locks let you into your driverless car & you’ll be fine) a complimentary relationship between tracking and attribution will in fact be the methodology to actualize the ability for: ‘…someone else) to build a better mousetrap, that helps advertisers better understand how to personalize their creative without any transference of personal data? Wouldn’t that be awesome?’ yes it would, and what’s the turnaround on a mitch@twistimage response? Health and Happiness, Hope For Life Despite All the Reasons Not To, In Fact Because of Them. -still, Richard Altman (curated sig)

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