Online Behavioural Advertising: A Matter of Choice

This is an excerpt from a story that originally appeared in Marketing’s Feb. 25 special Privacy Issue. Tickets for Marketing’s Understanding Privacy in 2013 half-day conference are still available. In the weeks or perhaps months ahead, a small but significant change will be made to most digital advertising originating in Canada. It won’t be overwhelming […]

This is an excerpt from a story that originally appeared in Marketing’s Feb. 25 special Privacy Issue. Tickets for Marketing’s Understanding Privacy in 2013 half-day conference are still available.

In the weeks or perhaps months ahead, a small but significant change will be made to most digital advertising originating in Canada.

It won’t be overwhelming or ruin your creative, but a little triangular icon will appear in or near most online ads. Outwardly it is a minor change, but it addresses a major issue.

At the same time digital media has produced a new age of digital marketing, concerns have grown over the protection of consumer privacy. People are revealing much more about themselves online, while at the same time technology to follow them as they browse and search has improved.

As Chris Williams, president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada (IAB Canada), points out, online behavioural advertising (OBA) is a more precise way to target audiences than other media that use a one-size-fits-all advertising approach, which can force guys who watch Kourtney & Kim Take Miami to endure loads of make-up commercials. That tactic creates wasted impressions from a marketing point of view, says Williams.

“It exposes an ad to people who have zero interest in it and never will have any interest in it,” he says. But as the practice of targeted online advertising has grown, so too have the number of people expressing concern about being followed online. “Creepy” is the word often used to describe it.

That little triangular icon is the symbolic response of the industry to address those fears.

Rather than wait for governments to create new laws about how consumer data can be used, a small group of marketing, advertising and media associations proactively joined together to form the Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada (DAAC) and bring in a self-regulatory program that will affect marketers, agencies, ad networks and publishers that engage in OBA.

The program shifts control from the hands of the ad industry to consumers. It pulls the curtain back to reveal to consumers how OBA – the practice of collecting web browsing data from a particular computer over time to deliver ads tailored to the inferred interests of whoever is using it – works.

As part of the program, members must offer full transparency to consumers about how and why their web viewing behaviour is being tracked. This info will be accessed by clicking on that small icon that program members will display in or near online ads where data is collected and used for OBA.

Once they click on the icon, consumers will be given information about how advertisers may collect data about their online browsing activity and use it to deliver them more relevant ads. They will also then be given the choice to prevent all or some of a list of companies (which could contain ad networks, exchanges, publishers and data providers) from showing them targeted ads by ticking opt-out boxes.

The program will be similar to one called “Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising” that has been used in the U.S. and Europe since 2009 and, as of early February, the U.K. as well.

Williams sees the incoming program as a win for marketers, Canadian industries and consumers alike because “if it’s done properly, they’re not being flooded with irrelevant ads.”

What’s more, the program should go a long way to allaying some misconceptions consumers have about OBA, says Williams.

Consumers tend to lump a lot of unrelated internet issues together and paint them with the same negative brush, he says. “In a consumer’s mind, some of them hear
‘the internet’ and then hear ‘privacy issues’ and suddenly it’s ‘Those banner ads—those are the problem,’ ” says Williams.

But the major data breaches mostly happen when laptops or USBs with personal information are lost, he says. “The biggest problem is not banner ads.”

It’s A Matter of Principles

The OBA program boils down to providing consumers with greater transparency around the collection of data related to their browser activities, how it may be used to display advertising, and giving them the choice to opt out.

“Agencies who engage in any type of OBA need to know what the risks are for their clients, the marketers, and themselves because at some point everybody has a role to play in giving consumers choice,” says Scott Atkinson, managing director, digital solutions with Media Experts. Media agencies that place the media and help choose targeting tactics – whether they be behavioural, demographic or retargeting – don’t want to do so at the expense of consumer privacy or consumer choice, says Atkinson, who is VP of IAB Canada’s agency council and up until recently also helped on its privacy and policy council.

Depending on whether you are a first party (i.e. website publisher), third party (i.e. advertising network, ad exchange) or service provider (i.e. search engine), there are different responsibilities when it comes to implementing the DAA C’s principles. That said, any group that signs up to be part of the program must adhere to its principles (see the Feb. 25 issue for more on this).

“It’s a very simple program, but there are different ways to come at it depending… what data you’re holding,” says Williams.

A major component of the DAA principles that will also be instrumental in the DAAC’s program is the display by program members of an icon that, within a few clicks, leads consumers to the opportunity to choose whether web viewing data can be gathered and used for OBA through an opt-out mechanism. According to the DAA’s implementation guide for the self-regulatory principles, the icon is “to be displayed in or near online advertisements or on web pages where data is collected and used for behavioral advertising.”

Many DAA program members have chosen to use the small blue triangular “AdChoices” icon in the upper right-hand corner of their OBA ads as the visual cue to let consumers know they are following the OBA guidelines.

The DAAC has an agreement in principle to license the icon from the DAA for Canada. Marketers using OBA that plan to join the DAA C’s program, says Hill, can license the icon themselves as a brand owner. Otherwise, if they are advertising with an ad network, they must ensure it will adhere to the program and that the icon will be displayed and provide consumers access to effective opt-out tools. Publishers will also have to ensure the advertisers on their site that use OBA display the icon.

Rather than license the AdChoices icon, program members are permitted to build their own opt-out tool and create a solution themselves, as long as the technology provides notice to the consumer and gives them meaningful choice.

The Canadian industry is already likely aware of the OBA program, says Todd Ruback, chief privacy officer of Evidon, a New York-based company with which DAAC has an agreement in principle to be the first-approved supplier for Canadian companies to assist them in the Canadian program. That would be because any Canadian players doing business in the U.S. should be complying with the DAA ’s program there. “So this is not going to be an earth-shattering event for them,” says Ruback, who is also a privacy attorney at a New Jersey law firm.

Williams adds that most of IAB Canada’s members understand how the program works because they’ve seen it in Europe and the U.S. In fact, many of IAB ’s members, such as Microsoft and Google, are international and have joined the program. Facebook, though, is notably not part of the DAA program in the U.S. Clients of Media Experts, says Atkinson, have been updated on the program for more than a year and told to keep budgeting for licensing fees in mind.

Illustration: Dan Page

There’s more! To read the full article, see the Feb. 25 issue of Marketing. Subscribe today.

For more insight on online privacy and consumer expectation, check out Understanding Privacy in 2013: The New Rules of Engagement on Feb. 28. Tickets are still available.

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