Gignac on Canadians and online behavioural advertising

May 17, 2012  |  Chris Powell  |  Comments

IAB Canada is currently in negotiations with the U.S.-based Digital Advertising Alliance to implement a system that informs and educates consumers about the use of online behavioural advertising (OBA) and allows them to opt-out of receiving ads based on their search history and web-browsing habits.

The self-regulating system has been in place for the past two years in the United States, where it is currently used by approximately 160 ad agencies, online ad networks and companies including American Express, AT&T, Bank of America, Condé Nast, Google and Microsoft.

At the heart of the system is a blue icon featuring a lower-case “i” signifying ads that are being served based on consumers’ web browsing. The icon links to an educational site,, which also features an opt-out tool.

Marketing spoke with outgoing IAB Canada president Paula Gignac about the system and its potential implications for online advertising in Canada.

Why is this system necessary?
Consumers have said they’re a little bit uneasy with online advertising and may not be fully aware of some of the tracking technologies. They may have voiced their opinion about tracking and transparency on social media networks. For this industry to persist, we have to make sure that consumers are protected. Transparency, education, choice and accountability are the four tenets of the Canadian program.

What have you learned from the U.S. implementation of the opt-out system?
The little symbol [the stylized “i” that stands for information] has become almost as ubiquitous as the recycling symbol in the U.S. That’s the first goal of the program in Canada: to get people aware of this capacity to track them and their ability to opt-out of it. The U.S. has done a great job of making that program ubiquitous.

How much understanding is there among the general population that their online movements are being tracked and ads delivered based on their search/web browsing history?
I remember back in the day when you would talk with people about different fonts and they didn’t know what fonts were, whereas if you were in the magazine industry, you would have a lot of familiarity with them. Now most consumers, because they’re creating their own content, understand fonts.

I think behavioural advertising has been talked about for the last three years, been brought to the surface, and I think consumers really are more aware of it. They understand that when they opt-out of OBA, it doesn’t mean they’re opting out of advertising per se – it means the ads they see will be less targeted. Some people like the serendipity of seeing ads they’re not used to, others like the fact they have four kids and never want to see the sports car advertising again. They need the mini-van ad.

Do you have a sense of what kind of consumer uptake the opt-out tool has seen in the U.S.?
The opt-out percentage in the U.S. is very low, because I think once you give consumers the transparency and the education, and they’re able to make that choice, they feel good about what [marketers] are doing. If people opt-out of OBA, they have the opportunity to go back in if they feel the ads they’re getting are not of the quality they want. If they opt-out of OBA, and they’re suddenly getting the “punch the monkey” ad all the time, that’s not a great experience either. People actually opt back in.

Will this initiative transform online advertising?
Anything that leads to better consumer confidence with any technology, whether it’s the web, a mobile device or a tablet, is good for everybody. At the end of the day [employees from] advertisers, agencies, publishers go home and sit in front of their computers and tablets and become consumers. We’re all trying to protect our privacy as well, because nobody wants to sell privacy down the river.

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