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?
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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.