A few weeks ago I highlighted the need for both the consumer and the advertising industry to embrace behavioural targeting – in a climate where both consumers and advertisers are becoming increasingly frugal and many want to see more with less it really does have a future.
The challenge to this is that the general perception of behavioural targeting technology is a negative one and there is one party in particular that has done an awful lot in recent months lead to a negative perception of the use of technology in advertising. Ask most people how they would feel about a TV that only showed them advertising for car insurance at times when they have a car with a policy that was coming up for renewal and they would understandably think this a good thing, yet if you asked if they would opt-in to behaviourally targeting to receive car insurance adverts at a more relevant time there is a good chance they’d walk over hot coals rather than grant permission.
If, ultimately, behavioural targeting is about receiving less ads but them being more relevant why are consumers and the media so against them? After all, behavioural targeting is obviously good for the advertisers (less ads doing the job of more) yet it is good for the consumer too (less ads and more content) and let’s not forget – the media, who are often quick to judge the technology, do still rely on advertising (and ultimately its effectiveness) in order to pay the bills.
The reason for the resistance is ultimately quite simple. It comes down to trust. Consumers can’t be expected to know the specific details for how every single piece of advertising technology works – all they require is some transparency and some honesty. And it is in the areas of transparency and honesty that advertisers, media owners and third parties succeed or fail.
Of all the news stories within this area none has hung around like a bad smell quite like that of Phorm, which partners with ISPs to provide a level of insight and targeting that doesn’t rely on cookie data and extends beyond the walled garden of sites with advertising on. In some ways Phorm is no different to any other behavioural targeting technology – the data is anonymous so there are no personal details attached and users can opt-in and out when they want.
So why the problem? Why the negative press? Sadly it comes down to a case of once bitten, twice shy. The legality is still being debated, although many believe there is little doubt that laws were broken, but rather than trialling on users that had opted in Phorm instead ran an initial test of the technology in partnership with BT but without notify or seeking permission from the individuals’ whose behaviour was being tracked.
It’s a mistake that has haunted Phorm since ever since. I recently saw Phorm present at the Festival of Media and the presentation did a good job of demonstrating the product – unfortunately much of any potential goodwill was undermined by the fact the presenter felt the need to ban all questions. Behaviour that doesn’t exactly exude confidence.
In response to the criticism Phorm have launched StopPhoulPlay.com, a site which attempts to quash the rumours and speculation by discussing the facts. It actually puts forward some strong arguments in places but sadly the message gets drowned out by the angry paranoid tone in which the site has been written, and the very fact they feel the need to create a site that responds to the criticism speaks volumes. The launch of this site has understandably generated negative, not positive, PR and this has been compounded by the recent allegations of collusion between Phorm and the Home Office to the point where many are calling time on the technology provider.
If you play nice then the outcome can be vastly different. Google recently announced the introduction of behavioural targeting on their massive display network (the UK’s biggest in terms of impressions served). As is often the case there was some mild initial criticism but this soon died down – the targeting is now live and in use. The point of difference is that, as part of the press release, Google also announced an area that explains the new targeting to consumers and enables them to manage the data held on their advertising cookie, giving users the ability to not only choose what types of content they are actually interested in but also to opt-out completely if they choose. It was a first for the industry to give users this level of control and is likely to be a sign of things to come if technology providers and publishers want to avoid the controversy that dogs Phorm.