May 2008 - Behavorial Marketing

Is Behavioral Advertising Like ’1984?’ Certainly Not for Those Born in 1984!

By Barbara Tulipane

While wrapping up a recent ERA staff meeting, someone suddenly asked a question about behavioral advertising. Frankly, I can’t even remember the question, but I do remember the debate that resulted! Staff members under the age of 30 could not understand why the FTC and certain consumer groups feel that behavioral marketing is an issue. For them, any tailored message or advertisement is considered a benefit. In fact, they expect it. It’s a convenience-a time saver and they really don’t care how the marketer does it. Indeed, many explained that they felt that privacy wasn’t particularly relevant to them.

While I share their sentiments, I know that many people my age don’t. And maybe age does have something to do with it. After all, I grew up in the generation that was raised on George Orwell’s book, “1984.” Big Brother and thought police were scary concepts and then came, Watergate and well…you get the picture. Personal privacy was to be protected-at all costs. Contrast my youth to those under 30 and perhaps it’s no surprise why we differ. They did their homework on the Internet, researched the web for school papers, and were the first ones to embrace social networking while college students. Take a look at Facebook or MySpace and you begin to understand that to this demographic-privacy means something very different.

While Orwell was right on many of his predictions (e.g., cameras on street corners, telescreens and speak writers) he failed to acknowledge that many of these innovations would be applauded by consumers for their convenience. But fear is a great motivator-heck, some would argue that advertisers in particular use this emotion to move product. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that these so-called “consumer groups” are using fear to bolster their presence-their reason for being. Recently, the FTC asked the industry to develop a self-regulation program to protect consumers from behavioral marketing. The problem, however, is that consumers are not complaining, so what would the industry regulate against?

The fact is that in the online space, reputation is everything and all the serious players are proactive about putting good practices in place that balance privacy concerns with consumer expectations of providing advertising that is relevant to them. It is well documented that advertising is the primary mechanism used to subsidize innovation and free information often sought on the Internet. That’s why some consumer group positions on the issue are so troubling; barring advertising and the creation of “do not track lists,” are misguided understandings of the underlying technology. The truth is behavioral advertising does not capture personally identifiable information about a consumer. It follows a computer’s clicks on participating websites and compares this activity against an algorithm to help predict what other items a consumer may be interested in. There’s not much anyone can do with this information, as financial information isn’t being collected, nor does the activity tell you the person’s age, gender, sexual orientation or race.

Let’s not allow my generation to dictate to the next what they should worry about. If the young ERA staff is any representation of their peers, then we must assume that they are savvy, confident and fearless shoppers! And for those who still fear “Big Brother,” set your computer settings to reject the cookies used for behavioral advertising or gasp…clear your cookie catch history and begin again with a clean slate.

Barbara Tulipane, CAE, is ERA’s president and CEO. She can be reached at (703) 908-1038, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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