Marketers, Give the People What They Want: Control

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For the media, marketing, and communications world, consumers are their oxygen, their lifeblood. Without people to consume things — content, services, products, and goods — the economy across the globe would shut down. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has given us all a good scare when it comes to facing such a possibility. (Thankfully, it looks like we’re finding new ways to get back to business.) 

That leads me to wonder why we don’t treat consumers better in our marketing. Why don’t we put their needs above all others and serve them in ways they want? The truth is, for the most part, marketers, their agencies, and the ad tech companies that support them tend to put their own needs ahead of those of consumers. Consumers’ data is largely collected and used without their knowledge or consent; they’re subjected to ads they never asked to see or expressed interest in; when they do consent to share their data, so rarely do they receive any kind of value exchange. 

When it comes to content and media, consumers have gained some measure of control, whether through the use of DVRs, on-demand content, streaming services, and/or social media. All that control has empowered them to want more control over the advertising that pays for much of that content.

Here’s a humble proposal: Let’s give them control in four ways: 

  • Let them choose the ads they see
  • Give them more control over the data they leave behind on their digital trail
  • When they do consent to sharing, truly provide value in return
  • Help educate the consuming public on their rights

I suggest these ideas not out of some idealized, altruistic notion, but because all four can and will lead to better business outcomes.  

Let’s start with the ads themselves. There’s a reason ad blocking exists — because many ads aren’t very good, and because consumers rarely get to choose the ads to which they’re exposed to If we change that dynamic by putting the power in their hands, there’s a huge fringe benefit: Ad recall and favorability go up. And if the consumer chooses your ad specifically, favorability and ad recall surge even higher. Why? Because they own the experience and have control. We’re talking stickiness, something every brand wants for their advertising.  

Of course, this means your advertising must be well executed and you have to offer them something they want. But if you haven’t cleared those hurdles, well, then you have more fundamental problems on your hands. 

Advertising in the digital world is mostly determined by the data that marketers and their agencies have on consumers. Marketers follow consumers all over their digital trail, which leaves a data trail. This is largely why the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) here in the U.S., exist. Where GDPR tries to give consumers control over how their data is used, CCPA mostly makes sure consumers know their data is being used. These two sets of regulation are a great start. 

But there’s also the element of data integrity. If data is not collected in a clean, proper, and consensual way, marketers put their brand safety at risk. It’s low-quality, non-consensual third-party data that has directly led to the rise of ad blockers. Those advertisers (and their agencies) that don’t want their marketing blocked need to support responsible data gathered from consumers who know how their data is being used. If you can actually collect the right data with permission and provide a truly personalized ad to the consumer, creating a more cohesive experience that’s more relevant to them, why would they block it? They wouldn’t.

Finally, our industry needs to do a better job at educating consumers about their choices. The average citizen doesn’t really understand all the complexities of ad tech and advertising — I’d argue many in our industry don’t understand enough either, but that’s for another column. The knowledge gap needs to be narrowed, and it’s incumbent on the ad tech players, advertisers, and agencies to all work together to create those educational strategies. A smarter consumer is a more engaged consumer — when they choose to engage with your ad. GDPR and CCPA can only do so much. 

The ad tech industry is moving quickly to an era of digital integrity. It is apparent now more than ever before that consumers deserve respect and transparency when it comes to understanding how their data is collected and used. In addition to gaining the respect of your consumers, it just may even translate to business results too.

Evan Rutchik is Chief Revenue Officer at Ogury.