Friday, October 1, 2010

Your Choice: Digital Privacy or Ads that Don't Suck

What would you rather have, a plethora of door-to-door salesmen that continually push their way into your house, trying to sell you things you don't need? Or a close, trusted friend overhearing you muttering about needing a specific widget and giving you a tip on where they got theirs? This is basically the continuum of advertising. An onslaught of messages about everything you need and everything you don't at all times, vs. a valuable pointer to a specific product that fits your needs, when - and only when - you need it. I'd vote for the latter. I think most people would. Most advertisers would prefer to offer the latter approach. Everybody wins, right?

Sure, but you'll have to kiss your digital privacy goodbye.

Google ads (Pay Per Click or PPC) are kind of an advertiser's dream. They show up about a product when a person is actually looking for that product, and the advertiser is only billed if the viewer bites. It's trackable, relevant and non-intrusive. But advertisers who limit themselves to PPC are not going to bring in the numbers. People go other places for information. Friends, blogs, forums. Places where conversations are happening about the subject in question. So how do advertisers keep that relevancy and get more exposure to their potential customers?

Facebook has been running ads for quite some time. They're pretty low-cost and a couple years ago, started becoming quite targeted. If a woman changed her status from 'Single' to 'Engaged' they started seeing more ads for wedding photographers and honeymoon getaways. This is a good thing, in theory. If you had just been jilted at the altar the last thing you would want to see is a bunch of ads for wedding services. But to give you these relevant ads, advertisers need to know a few things about you. The more they know, the more the ads serve you and them.

Relevance is good, but at what cost? If an advertiser knows absolutely everything about you, they're not going to waste your time and their dollar trying to sell you something you would never buy. Awesome. But then someone you've never met who may have any sort of scruples now knows everything about you. And who knows what they'll do with that information. Or even if their intentions are pristine, are they keeping that information secure? Once your preferences, address, statistics and other information is out there, well, it's out there. Somewhere. And the new generation of digital criminals have quite the arsenal to crack into that information with.

But the other end of the scale promotes more noise, more chaos, more volume. It means more intrusion, like Times Square and less value in the advertising message.

So how do we balance the scale? Can we get the best of both worlds? Can we eliminate the shotgun tactics of mass advertising and focus on valuable, targeted advertising, while still protecting our privacy. Is it even possible? And if so, how?


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