Over two years ago, I wrote an article called “Ad Blocking: Could It Auger The End Of A Free Internet?” It described how the digital advertising industry must use the advanced technology available to deliver amazing new consumer experiences instead of using it to damage those relationships. It went on to highlight, that the bigger mountain to climb was a transformational change in the then current thinking, that business as usual, intrusive advertising models, ridiculous amounts of invasive tracking with poor content and no conscious thought about value to consumers placed the industry’s very survival at stake.
No One Really Cared
In the ensuing years, little has been done to change and improve the advertising landscape from a consumer experience perspective. The response as we all know has been a major backlash from an estimated 1.7 billion frustrated consumers now using ad blockers and billions of dollars in lost advertising revenue. All forecasts project significant growth in their use as consumers continue to take control of their on-line experiences.
The root cause of consumer dissatisfaction has become multi-faceted. The introduction of programmatic advertising led to a dramatic decline in advertising quality in pursuit of increasing revenues. Cookies and tracking disrupts and causes distrust in consumer experiences, injecting unwanted ads at every opportunity while tracking and capturing as much consumer data as possible, across their on-line journeys. Heightened consumer awareness and understanding of digital technology is now mainstream thanks to the high profile cases that are now regularly in the news. Last but not least, the capturing and selling of personal information without consumer permissions is considered intolerable driving consumers to use any tools and measures available to protect their privacy to eliminate intrusive advertising, tracking and other nefarious things. And more importantly, driving governments to step in and take action.
Now They Are Listening
Fast forward to today. The surge in the use of ad blockers grows relentlessly and continues to erode advertising revenues. The capture and misuse of personal data has resulted in such an outcry that regulators have stepped in. In Europe, GDPR was implemented on 25 May 2018 and companies are confused and struggling to understand what they need to do to conform to this legislation. In April 2018 following the Facebook debacle, Congressional hearings on data privacy resulted in a new privacy bill, the CONSENT Act being introduced. And most recently, California legislators passed a sweeping law to protect online consumer privacy; a major first step in America’s own version of GDPR. When it goes into effect in January 2020, every type of organization doing business in California will have to observe new restrictions on the capture, sharing and sale of personal information and provide consumers the right to access and have their personal data deleted. Don’t be surprised if other states follow California’s lead.
Two years ago, I predicted that unless there is a paradigm shift in the use of Ad Tech/Mar Tech and the vicious cycle it has created, there was a real danger that the free internet, which has been largely supported by advertising dollars, would itself be threatened. Today, the writing is on the wall for programmatic advertising. In an article by Jessica Davies in Digiday, entitled GDPR mayhem; Programmatic ad buying plummets in Europe Since the early hours of May 25, she highlights that “ad exchanges have seen European ad demand volumes plummet between 25 and 40 percent in some cases, according to sources. Ad tech vendors scrambled to inform clients that they predict steep drops in demand coming through their platforms from Google. Some U.S. publishers have halted all programmatic ads on their European sites”. Other sites and technology vendors have closed up and moved out of the EU. You can expect that this is only the start. Watch out for a consolidation in the industry, massive downsizing or worse, companies going out of business.
Where Do We Go From Here?
At my and other like thinking companies, we have long held the belief that any resolution of these issues demanded the conscious realization that consumers are truly in control. Instead of blatantly bypassing consumer choice to block ads, and capturing, abusing and misusing consumer data without consent, publishers and brands need to offer consent-based engagements that offer transformational advertising experiences. You must now give consumer choices, self-selected journeys within their digital experiences that choke off the indiscriminant capture of personal data without consumer permission. Simultaneously addressing these needs changes the whole market dynamic. Consent based engagement will over time rebuild mutual respect, increase consumer interest and attention that in turn will lift brand value and create a new paradigm bringing new revenue streams back to brands and publishers.
We don’t have another two years to get this right. If the industry doesn’t act we are on track to return to 1996, before AdTech and programmatic; the time before ad servers were conceived. Solutions already exist that directly address these pivotal needs if and when people finally get the message.