Last week in this space I offered the hope that publishers, advertisers, agencies, platforms and ad tech companies would make better choices now that the much-abused Cookie was being taken out of service. I suggested that someone should be in the room advocating for privacy and honesty. I also hope we’ll reconsider who we serve and how we think about them.

Consumers? Impressions? Unique IDs? Traffic? No. Citizens.

Several years ago, an adtech and data firm asked me to moderate a panel on privacy at one of their conferences. I agreed, provided we could populate the panel with actual people – civilians who visited our websites, watched our videos, looked at our ads, bought stuff. Setting aside the fact that this was first time many in the audience had ever discussed privacy with anyone outside of our business, the insights were remarkable.

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.

“Who said it was OK to target me?” asked a business owner from Nassau County. “What am I getting out of that deal?”

“Don’t tell me the internet is free,” said a teacher from Queens. “I pay money every month to get online.”

“I get it and I’m OK with ads,” offered an electrician from Jersey. “But don’t you think you guys are overdoing it and poisoning the well?”

These were not Luddites or radical consumer activists. Just Citizens who’d been overlooked and taken for granted for one hell of a long time. They’d been treated like numbers on a spreadsheet, anonymous cogs. And they were fed up.

Something remarkable happens when we begin framing the people at the center of our world as Citizens. We start to grasp our responsibility for giving them a decent environment. We become stewards. We make fewer careless assumptions about what we can get away with and start asking what’s the right thing to do.

I haven’t kept in touch with the Citizens from that panel. But I would guess that they, like so many others, are spending a bunch more time on Facebook and Instagram – in spite of the fact that scores for trust and privacy on those platforms are bottoming out.  They probably reason that if they’re going to get jerked around they may as well get jerked around in an efficient, predictable environment.

Now we’ve got a chance to start again. We can win those Citizens back. As the amazing Rishad Tobaccowala writes in Restoring the Soul of Business, we can close out the age of Too Much Math, Too Little Meaning. No more carpet bombing with the same dumb ads. Less content and more facts and real information. No more careless use of data. No more thoughtlessness about the environment we steward. 

That’s no way to treat Citizens.

If you’re a qualified sales leader and want to talk about the next era in our business, you might like to attend Seller Forum on Wednesday March 18th in New York, reach out now for your invitation.

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.


The Right to Target.

Look hard at the title of this post.  If you sit with it for just a few beats you may see irony, a contradiction in terms … or you may not see much of anything.  But our interpretation of this simple phrase – The Right to Target – says a lot about each of us and when we probably got involved in this whole digital marketing thing.

To those who came to the business between 2000 and 2010, there may seem little to discuss.  Of course there’s an inherent right to target advertising to users… they’re getting their content for free, right?  Indeed, in the first decade of the millennium the machinery of targeting and its rationalization were both cranking full force.  Technologies were invented and businesses were launched to do nothing else.

To those who came earlier – and probably to those just joining the party now – the irony and inherent conflict in the term seems rather obvious.  To target someone seems like an overtly aggressive and invasive act.  Seen in a vacuum, the verb alone is rather jarring.  How could anyone have a right to target someone else?  It’s a question I raised way back in 2010 (@ 18:45 of the video) just as programmatic buying and technology were crashing over the business like a tsunami.   Back when it was raining money, this question may have seemed quaint or naïve.

Doesn’t seem like that anymore, does it?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal the onset of GDPR regulation may not be causing a sea change in attitude and practice, but they are vividly reflecting it.  Zuck’s well-rehearsed damage control exercise on Capitol Hill brought the issues of targeting and data control out of the server closet and into mainstream consciousness.  I don’t think this dies down now, do you?

So if targeting is no longer a right, then what is it?   It’s a privilege.  It’s a pact.  It’s a knowing transaction executed in simple terms that have nothing to do with the insane legalese of the user agreement.  It’s not even targeting anymore; it’s customization and content selection.  And there is going to be very little in the way of gray area.  There will be great companies who uphold the highest standards and there will be scoundrels.

Semantics?  No.  Brands both established and emerging have woken to the social and business cost of being on the wrong side of history.  They’re in the room now with their eyes wide open.

The change has come.  Welcome to the sunlight.

Thar Be Pirates!

Fresh off the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Miami this week, I think the casual observer could draw only one conclusion about the world of online advertising: Man, there’s some scary shit going on in there! That we’ve built a $30 billion business despite all these sordid goings-on is nothing short of amazing. (To those inclined at this point to flame me in defense of the medium: chill out a little, will ya? It’s satire in pursuit of a larger point. Irony was big when I was a young man, and I’m hoping it makes a comeback.)

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Evidon. Evidon empowers consumers and businesses to see, understand and control data online. Find out how Evidon Encompass can help you improve performance, protect your data and comply with privacy regulations.

What Privacy? In defiance of all reason, we cling to terms like “targeting” and “tracking,” making our consumers sound like so many caribou. This has spurred politicians to introduce “do not track” legislation and consumer advocates to introduce the “right to be forgotten.”

Funny Business: ComScore’s Magid Abraham told us yesterday that 31% of online display ads are unviewable: many are buried at the bottom of pages that are never scrolled, while still others are artificially dropped onto pages as pixel-sized MiniMe ads, invisible to the human eye. In a hallway conversation, someone brought up “bit-shaving,” which I don’t really understand but think involves tiny digital basketball teams intentionally missing shots and turning the ball over.

Hal has Become Self-Aware: We are told that the pace at which everything becomes automated will only increase. After all, how can automation be anything but a force for liberation, creativity and a better world? (Ignore that whole Wall Street margin call scenario we just lived through.)

Just When You Think It’s Safe to Go Back in the Water: Pirates! No shit, Pirates! Brian O’Kelley from AppNexus got up on stage and declared that his company would no longer serve ads to sites that pirate content. ( and AaargNet will apparently be filing for restraining orders.)

Don’t get me wrong: I was really happy to take part in the IAB Leadership Meeting, mostly because it was, in fact, a leadership meeting. In my opinion, our business still operates on some naïvely dangerous assumptions: that advertisers will default to what’s in the best interest of the consumer…that the true value of content is respected…that more automation is always better…that the triumph of audience buying over contextual value is a foregone conclusion.

In bringing up the whole Pirate concept, O’Kelley conjured up another pretty powerful metaphor: Vampires. The idea is that if we flood the world with sunlight, all the bad guys – the Vampires – will die. Sure, this is a bit dramatic, but I like it. Just maybe we’re starting to acknowledge that there’s both a light and dark side to our business…that there are Bernie’s Madoffs walking among us, and that they are the enemy.

For many years we turned a blind eye to the charlatans and rogues because exposing them might bring down the whole house of cards. But we needn’t live with that fear anymore. Online marketing is a dominant economic and social force today. It’s time to make active choices about sustainability, business ethics, respect for the consumer, and the value of content. And I’m glad the IAB is there to expose those who make the wrong ones.

The Shot Over the Bow.

Listening to the insider discussions and industry reporting about online marketing provides a numbing sense of false comfort.  But every so often, we go outside the bubble and hear civilians talking about what we do.  I’m sure most of us have had someone at a party or family gathering share their ‘creeped out’ moment;  that instance where they finally saw clearly that somehow they were being ‘followed’ online.   Other times, they offer us largely unformed general concerns about online privacy: they don’t really have a sense of what’s going on but they instinctively know they don’t like it.  And once in a great while you’ll hear from someone who’s really done their homework and brings crystal clarity to the issue from the consumer point of view.

That moment came for me when I stumbled on an NPR radio interview with Joseph Turow, author of “The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth.”  After using up my ten minute commute, I found myself sitting my car in the parking lot of my office for another 30 minutes just listening to this guy.  It was kind of like hearing someone talk about you in a bathroom when they don’t know you’re in one of the stalls.  Except they’re totally getting it right.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Evidon.  Evidon empowers consumers and businesses to see, understand and control data online. Find out how Evidon Encompass can help you improve performance, protect your data and comply with privacy regulations.

Turow, an associate dean at the Annenberg Communication school at Penn, has done a lot of homework.  The book is detailed and rigorous, but also extremely accessible to the curious consumer.  While it’s probably not going to sell millions of copies, I believe it’s going to be a hugely influential and important book for several reasons.

  • To my knowledge, it’s the first crossover book that’s attempted to explain in great detail our industry’s use of data to the consumer.  And while explaining it all to the consumer, Turow also explains it all to the business and consumer press.  Perhaps for the first time, they will really understand the digital marketing ecosystem.  And that understanding is almost certain to drive a lot more reporting.  Expect a lot more stories like the Wall Street Journal’s 2010 “What They Know” series, only better informed.
  • “The Daily You” is also clear eyed and inclusive.  Turow is not a wild eyed privacy crusader tilting at windmills.  A walk through his index and end notes is like thumbing through a digital marketing “who’s who” — you’ll recognize a lot of names, companies and concepts right off the bat.
  • And finally, the book builds an intellectual bridge that’s the link to a very powerful idea:  that on some level this is not just a privacy issue, but a human rights issue.  For Turow, the real issue is the digital caste system that’s being imposed on consumers without their knowledge or consent.  Over time, one consumer will enjoy better discounts and better access to quality brands and offers than his less fortunate counterpart.  Perhaps more important are the ways in which these two consumers content experiences will diverge as a result of all the profiling that’s been done.  Like it or not, each of us is getting an online data version of an invisible credit score.  Turow gets this and his readers will too.

For my money, “The Daily You” should be a mandatory read for anyone in our industry.  It’s the beginning of an important new conversation about sustainable and inclusive data practices, a conversation that will form much quicker than many of us might imagine.