Work together to fix web ads? Let's not.

Web advertising is a dangerous mess. But why keep thinking about it as a "let's have a meeting about it" problem? It's more of a "what can I fix now and make serious money doing it" problem. Read on for a link to some JavaScript that a brand advertiser (or publication, but we covered that before) can start using today.

The opportunity comes from the fact that low-reputation and high-reputation brands need fundamentally different qualities from an advertising medium.

  • Low-reputation brands need to send ads only to people likely to respond.

  • High-reputation brands need to send a costly, hard-to-repudiate signal to an large audience.

When an ad medium is targetable, sellers lose the ability to signal. When an ad could have been targeted to a small group, you can see that the advertiser isn't spending as much to reach you.

Bob Hoffman explains.

Most people are pretty good behavioral economists. They may not know anything about how the products they buy work, but they know how to read the advertising signals.

Signaling failure is obscured by all the other problems that web advertising has. You're lucky if your brand's ad ends up being shown to an adfraud bot, because if that ad gets through to a real user, it's probably attached to a beheading video or conspiracy theories or malware or something. What a shitshow.

People are still nerding out over new technologies without fixing the obvious problems, never mind the deep problem of signaling failure.

Work together? Why not?

Fortunately, web advertising is not a problem where "the industry" needs to "work together". Mark Glaser, on the DCN site, does an excellent job of identifying the problems. But he writes,

If the demand for money and efficiency is eroding the integrity of content—not to mention that of brands and platforms—everyone involved must collaborate to gain that trust back.

In the IT business, this kind of call for coordinated action is what executives from legacy companies say while they're getting ready for an expensive conference with a golf tournament. And they say it right about the time that an independent programmer in a basement somewhere is writing the code to eat their lunch. When a whole industry is wrong about something, that doesn't mean you have a big boring assignment to persuade everyone in the industry. It means you have an opportunity to make mad cash by being right. A good agency working independently can solve the web advertising problem for one brand, just as a good publication working independently can solve the web advertising problem for its own audience.

If your idea of a solution to the web advertising problem involves meetings about how everybody has to solve the problem or nobody can, then I've got nothing for you. Go look at cat GIFs or something.

Still with me? Good.

The more that a user gets protected from tracking and targeting, the more signalful the web becomes as an ad medium from that user's point of view. This can work one user at a time. No coordination required. It's a matter of informing and nudging users to take precautions and become less trackable. Please grab the code (it's open source) and try it out.

What kinds of brand advertisers will be good early adopters for tracking protection strategies?

Does the brand have noisy, low-reputation competitors?

Some high-reputation categories are great fits for tracking protection because there are so many rip-offs using targeted web ads.

  • Insurance

  • Financial services

  • Health care

Does the brand depend on reputation earned over long-term use?

Look for goods that are difficult to evaluate at point of purchase and where an experience with a deceptive seller can be costly.

High-signal advertising is a way to take a position on future customer satisfaction and what kind of word of mouth that the brand is betting it will earn.

  • Tools

  • Cookware

Is the email list an (expletive deleted) gold mine?

This is an easy one. If you already have the customers reliably opening your email, or participating in some other medium such as a customer web board, you've got great data and nothing to lose by helping to deny their info to the competition. Play defense.

Does the brand already have a tracking-protected customer base?

Some product categories already appeal to Internet "privacy nerds" who are hard to reach by conventional web ads. Worse, conventional marketing tech is giving you really bad numbers when enough of the customer base is "invisible". Tracking protection strategy is essential here, just to keep from getting wrong answers. Don't do a big new product launch based on what bots want.

Next steps

If you answered "yes" to one or more of these, the first step is to collect some data on tracking protection adoption among the brand's customers and prospects. A high-traffic support or service page is a good place to install tracking protection measurement to get a baseline measurement on how well-protected the audience is. From there, it's a creative marketing project to customize a tracking protection campaign—something new and different to offer to a brand stuck in the online advertising mess.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Bonus link: Brian O'Kelley, Data is fallout, not oil

Don Marti · #