Advertising & eCommerce: Respecting the Consumer

Giff Constable advertising, Aprizi


A few entrepreneurs have written lately about the blurring of ecommerce and advertising (albeit advertising that is about driving a sale rather than building brand affinity). I agree; Aprizi’s attempt to build a “Pandora for online shopping” shares some traits with ad targeting efforts because in the end we’re all trying to improve relevance.  I want to highlight a key difference: the respect for consumer data and privacy.

Hunch, Blippy and Aprizi all have a goal of understanding consumer preferences in order to get them what they want.  We all happen to be taking very different approaches, but there is one core similarity: we are all opt-in services.

There is a simple bargain at work here: the consumer provides information in exchange for an attractive value proposition.

Contrast this to what is happening with behavioral targeting and the sketchy world of cookie dropping and behind-the-scenes data sharing.

When I go to a retailer’s website, I fully expect them to be tracking my every move in order to optimize their ability to convert a sale.  If tracking helps the retailer make better suggestions, then great — I’m on their site after all.  What I don’t expect is for them to be sharing that data with a third party, or enabling a third party to drop a cookie.

This isn’t a new issue.  Long before the Internet, retailers were allowed to sell your name, address and purchase behavior to data co-ops.  I think consumers have largely been ignorant of what goes on behind the scenes, and while they continue to let it slide, is that really good enough?

None of the self-regulation ideas I have seen from the ad industry sound all that effective to me. A little icon no one will notice?  These band-aids allow the ad industry (including complicit online retailers) to skate under the realities of consumer behavior on the web (i.e. what consumers actually see and do).  I for one am glad that regulators are starting to take a closer look at this issue.  I am also curious to see what kind of better (and default) controls emerge from the browser developers.

However, I’ll also state explicitly that I come from the applications world, not ad-tech, so if you disagree with my perspective or think I am missing something, I’d love to hear it.

Interesting resources to track on this issue:
Better Advertising
– Stephen Kline’s twitter feed
The Future of Privacy Forum
Bynamite is a startup trying to focus on these issues directly