Whatever You Do, Don’t Opt Out: Why It’s Time For Consumers And Advertisers To Change Their Ways

Much of how we consumers feel about advertising today is based on its oldest formats. I fondly remember Budweiser and Miller 30 second TV spots that clearly were designed to entertain as a way of achieving brand recall. I also can recall flipping through my favorite sports magazines and emerging with fingers rank with nauseatingly over-powering colognes. While we all have a favorite ad, moments like my magazine stink-fest have conditioned us to be mistrustful of advertising and, therefore, advertisers.

I’m not going to defend the industry’s old practices here. Rather, I want to encourage two things. First, I want you to not opt out of personal information sharing. The data you produce is key to avoiding an unwanted advertising encounter. Second, I urge advertisers to use the data now available to minimize the likelihood that they’ll serve an ad that only reinforces negative perceptions. Both these things are valid today because of how advertising, including mobile, has evolved from art to science.

When I think about the consumer experience with ads prior to the advanced targeting the Internet enabled, it’s no wonder we all encountered stuff we wish we hadn’t seen, heard, or, in my case, inhaled. Television, radio and print channels relied on a combination of proprietary research and tracking data from companies such as Nielsen to qualify and measure their audiences. Unfortunately, these methods had significant flaws that compromised their reliability and were expensive to operate and maintain. The result: advertisers built and served ads with intrinsic imprecision.

How things have changed. First, the internet ushered in a new era of advanced targeting and access to immediate data on consumer response. Led by search engine advertising, digital marketing continues to evolve in ways that allows advertisers to significantly improve the inherent limitations of one-way advertising platforms, such as television and print. Second, mobile introduced the ability to layer in location information and the opportunity to engage users away from the home or office, further refining the ability to target relevant audiences. The result is that any product or service provider can find and engage its market.

All these improvements, however, are imperiled when users opt out of information sharing. As I’ve written before, opting out of information collection does not mean users will get their Internet experience ad-free. It merely means the ads they’ll get will more closely resemble the kinds of hit-or-miss experience that can make advertising so frustrating. It therefore strikes me as unfortunately ironic that a maneuver designed to make consumers feel more secure is likely instead to reinforce the mistrust that makes so many of us want to run and hide from advertisers.

Users aren’t the only ones with a choice that can either move the industry forward by making it more user-friendly or take it back to pre-Internet darkness. Advertisers need to step up, too, by embracing data. Yes, it can be hard to work with. No, it is not as much fun as working on the creative side of the business. And no, it is not evil to use this information to more accurately locate your audience. Rather, you do everyone a favor when you strive to become more relevant, which mobile, digital and social, i.e. two-way advertising platforms empower you to do.

So if you’re thinking of opting out, please don’t. If data bores, scares, or repulses you or your marketing team, find someone to help you move past these barriers. The result will be an industry that improves the user experience, makes more money, and keeps my fingers odor-free.

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