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Ken Magill

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Do-Not-Track: More of What's Really at Stake

1/2/13

By Ken Magill

True story: An advertiser pitching a financial-services product to parents with young children on behalf of a client last week spent $45,000 on behaviorally targeted ads.

The result? $3.5 million in new accounts.

That’s 3.5 friggin’ million dollars on an ad spend of 45 thousand.

A bunch of kids now have $3.5 million worth of financial security they didn’t have two weeks ago.

How do I know this? Because the ad buyer is my wife. She comes home with results like this for this particular client on a regular basis.

She’s had this client for more than a decade.

“What did you do before behaviorally targeted advertising?” I asked her.

“Direct mail and DRTV,” she answered. “Mainly direct mail, but then that’s behaviorally targeted advertising, too.”

“Did you ever get the kind of results with direct mail that you get with online behaviorally targeted ads?” I asked.

“Nooooooo, not even close.”

If a do-not-track mechanism were in place last week, no doubt a certain percentage of the parents my wife reached—possibly a significant one—would have previously opted out of behaviorally targeted ads and my wife would have been prevented from informing them of her client’s product.

Some number of parents would have failed to brighten their kids’ financial future because the people with the product to help them do it would have been unable to reach them so efficiently.

Instead, all it took was $45, 000 to achieve $3.5 million in increased financial security for children.

If a universal do-not-track mechanism is implemented, people will opt out of having their browsing behavior anonymously and harmlessly tracked without understanding the full ramifications of their decisions.

People can’t know they want to buy a product or service unless they know it exists. Behaviorally targeted online ads are proving to be an incredibly cost effective way for people with products and services to reach other people who will probably want them whether they know of them or not.

The possibilities are endless

Last week, my wife did the online equivalent of saying: “Your browsing behavior indicates you have at least one child between the ages of two and five. I have something you probably want to know about.”

We already know what their answers were.

What is more, she knows nothing about any of the folks who were targeted. She had no access to any personally identifiable information.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a Federal Trade Commission seemingly increasingly hell bent on implementing some form of universal do-not-track when there hasn’t been a single case of demonstrable harm as a result of behaviorally targeted ads.

We’ve also got an FTC chairman—Jon Leibowitz—who thinks someone’s health-insurance premiums may rise because they bought a deep fryer online.

Question for Mr. Leibowitz: I am a cigar smoker with a several-stick-a-day habit. I stopped buying cigars at retail years ago because tobacco taxes in New York are criminally high.

Rather, I buy my cigars online. Do you think for one moment my online cigar retailer would willingly give the information surrounding the transactions I make with them to anyone who might cause me any discomfort?

You’re darned tootin’ they wouldn’t. Not if they want to stay in business. And that’s the funny thing about people in business. They generally want to stay there.

I am also an insulin-dependent diabetic. If someone out there comes up with some broccoli-cinnamon-fairy-dust concoction that will help me control my sugar, I am going to want to hear about it.

Now what would be the most cost effective way for the broccoli-cinnamon-fairy-dust merchant to reach me? Through my endocrinologist? Yeah, right.

Try behaviorally targeted advertising.

I recently had a conversation with a privacy professional who I greatly respect who thinks there is entirely too much energy being spent on the issue of behaviorally targeted ads because they’re such a small part of a much broader issue.

“Think about it,” he said. “What would we really lose if behaviorally targeted advertising simply went away?”

My wife implicitly answers that question every week when she gleefully shows me the astounding results she achieves for her clients and the consumers who buy her clients’ products.

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Rick Fick
Date: 2013-01-07 13:28:11
Subject: Marketers use lists to sell, not to invade privacy or to stalk.

I agree. This trend is already in full swing on all on-line platforms by local advertisers that are adding keyword choices that include specific behaviors to traditional product and service keywords so there's no reason to believe this information won't be used by direct marketers to do anything but try to make offers as on-point and laser specific as possible. It's called efficiency, but of course the bogeyman of privacy concerns always lurks to potentially keep us away from the things we might want most.

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