Better Choices.

Pssst… Hey… Cookies are going away. Pass it on…

OK, so maybe this has been the longest goodbye since BREXIT. But now, given the announcement by Google that Cookies will be made obsolete on the Chrome browser within two years, we’ve finally got some punctuation. The “sell-by” date on cookies has been made plain.

There are thousands in our business – with much bigger tech chops than mine – who can debate and discuss the technical minutiae and micro-implications for the winners and losers. My purpose here is not to debate those questions, but rather to try and influence the next set of technology decisions.

Most sellers end their meetings right before things get good. Prime information and qualification don’t happen until a closing question gets asked. In a short, time-efficient workshop, Upstream Group can walk your team through the process and role-play the very-real-life scenarios they face in the market. Reach out today. The consult is free.

The Cookie was invented on the fly for a rather innocuous purpose. The dumb old web servers of yore had no way of distinguishing one server request from the last or the next. Without each browser having this “sense of state” the server could not tell whether it was ten separate users or the same user doing ten things. Without something like the Cookie, online commerce and other everyday functionality were largely impossible.

But then something very predictable happened. Either ignorant or unconcerned about the potential for misuse, the tech community hugged the flag of libertarianism and disavowed any moral ownership for what they had built and continued to build upon. Did anyone ever step up and ask, Hey… is this really OK? We had essentially created a surveillance technology that covertly monitored and recorded the online travels and behaviors of a few billion people. But no, nobody ever asked that question.

I know that, in light of Facebook officially sanctioning lies by political candidates, a pair of shoes following you around the web may not seem like much. But it was the same civic blindness and moral ambiguity that drove both decisions… and will drive many more in the future. Is there a place in the boardrooms and billion-dollar campuses for moral and ethical questions? Who will raise the values on which our best decisions will be made or call out the social and ethical implications of shortsightedness?

Just because we can does not necessarily mean we should.

At our next Seller Forum gathering we’ll be discussing the specific implications for publishers; how they can pursue richer, more truth-based businesses in the post-Cookie era. I believe there’s a very real possibility that this is another step in a march toward authenticity, first-party relationships and the value of the publisher/reader/programmer/viewer relationships.

I also believe that we too quickly forget our bad decisions and the bad decision-making that generated them.  I hope there will be someone in the room to advocate for privacy and honesty. I hope someone is there to ask the hard questions.

If you’re a qualified sales leader and might like to attend Seller Forum on Wednesday March 18th in New York, reach out now for your invitation.



Breaking BetterAdvertising Week 2013 runs through Friday.  Breaking Bad ends its 6-season run on Sunday night.  Coincidence?  Perhaps…

When I think of the first 12 or 13 years of the digital ad business, it now seems like the Jesse Pinkman era.  For those of you who don’t follow BB, at the series’ outset Jesse was a small time meth cook and a legend in his own mind, tooling around town a chopped Monte Carlo with Captain Cook vanity plates.  Jesse was all bluster and attitude, but in his own way he meant well.  Enter Walter White, Jesse’s high school chemistry teacher, who brings ambition, urgency and massive amounts of science to the task.  Suffice to say, within a very short time it’s an altogether different business.  As is ours.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Evidon. Evidon produces new, accurate intelligence on how the digital marketplace really works, so companies can make more informed decisions for their businesses. Powered by Ghostery® data, Evidon solutions include unparalleled insight into the marketing technologies that underpin the commercial internet and the power to control their impact on business. 

For those who still plan to binge-view the series, no spoilers here.  But the question for Walt and Jesse — and for us — is just what how much staying power and sustainability the new enterprise will ultimately enjoy.   The Walter White era of online advertising has been built on a foundation of (a) an inconceivably massive volume of page views and ad calls, (b) just enough passable data to credibly inform ad decisions, (c) enough venture funding to spawn a score of solid decision engines, (d) cookies to link it all together and (e) advertising buyers willing to avoid the thorniest questions.  I don’t know for sure if things get better or worse going forward:  if you can find six people who agree what “better” or “worse” would be, send them my way.  But I believe that at least some of these pillars will give way.

One plausible scenario is that the industry uses some of the wealth and momentum we enjoy to put our house in order.  An issue like viewability — a huge share of our massive volume of page views  going unseen or, worse, being generated fraudulently — is an embarrassing symptom.   Our collective response to strictures on third-party cookies — “we’ll just do something else” — may be true, but it misses the point.  And we can certainly demand deeper and better sources of meaningful consumer data instead of continuing to rely on warmed over observations and stale cookies.

I know there will be some who say I’m hatin’ on the biz.  Not true.  I love the innovation, the courage, the invention, the people…all of it.  I just want to see it all devoted to building great businesses — and a great business — that will stand the test of time.   We may not think we have anything in common with Walt and Jesse’s business, but remember that we both call our customers “users” and our business “traffic.”  Maybe it’s time for a change.

A Pause in the Targeting Arms Race

At last May’s iMedia Agency Summit in Austin, I offered up a dozen “Dead Internet Ideas,” long-held beliefs and practices that – if left unquestioned and unchanged – would stifle the further intellectual development of online marketing.  Probably the most controversial “dead idea” was the assumption that we have a “right to target” the consumer for the purpose of advertising.

To be clear, I wasn’t saying that targeting in and of itself was wrong or that it should come to an end.  Rather, that the underlying assumption that “because we can, therefore we may” was a very dangerous and self destructive idea.  I believed then (and still do) that we as an industry have largely ignored any true value exchange with the consumer as we pursue ever more levels of data-driven targeting.  Neither of our principal rationalizations for the targeting buildup (that it keeps the Internet “free” and that it brings consumers more useful advertising) withstands much scrutiny.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Lotame. Crowd Control from Lotame helps publishers understand and segment their audiences,  while providing industry-leading opt-out features designed to enhance the consumer privacy experience. To learn more about Lotame’s vision for responsible data management, click here.

I’m reminded of this theme by two items I’ve read this week.  First, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz announced this week that the federal government would seek to institute a do-not-track capability for consumers.  Can it be done?  Will it be pursued? Enforced?  Don’t know.  But the industry response that I’ve so far sounds a lot like that which surrounded the last spring’s “Boucher Bill” discussion:  lots of kicking the can down the road.  Whether or not FTC action is imminent, realistic or even workable is beside the point.  We simply can’t afford to whistle past the graveyard one more time on this issue.  Read the next sentences carefully:

It’s time our industry drives forward a data and targeting compact with consumers that is based on a  real value exchange.  Let’s aim for something truly great, instead of just something good enough to keep the would-be regulators at bay.  Let our ambition on this issue match our technical acumen.

The other item that prompted this post was Nancy Galanty’s interview with internet pioneer Jaron Lanier on iMedia Connection.  His book and the interview are much broader than the issues of this particular post, but I’ll use two of his statements here and effectively give him the last word on this issue:

“You have to be realistic about what you can achieve when you are bringing technology into marketing. You have to be balanced. You have to live in the present, not in the future…..I think basically, somebody just (needs) to point out that we are on a path that won’t work forever, and that we need to start thinking about alternate ways to do things.”

Joe Barton Gave me a Cookie :-p

Representatives Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) together expressed outrage about this week’s Wall Street Journal ‘expose’ on cookies and privacy.  Just for grins, I went to the websites of both congressmen to see if either of them would drop a cookie on me.   For those keeping your own demagoguery score card at home, the tally is:  Barton 1, Markey 0.  I’ll be sending a note to Rep. Barton asking him what he intends to do with my data 🙂