A Communication Planner’s Dilemma
In 2002’s futuristic thriller “Minority Report,” Tom Cruise’s character John Alderton is assaulted by ads from street level displays, serving him a sales pitch by name. As the audience stirred around me, astounded by the fantasy technology and in abhorrence of the coming Big Brother future, I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow. I hope they get that technology working soon. Talk about recency! Talk about low waste!” Yes, communication planners do make odd movie attendees. But my wish, by and large, was granted, and more quickly than I could have anticipated. Communication planners and marketers of all types wrestle with what privacy means in the second decade of this century, and how we can help advertisers desiring the most relevant communication recognize and address consumer concerns — concerns that could negatively impact their very brand.
The More You Know, the Less You Worry
While I should perhaps align more with my fellow Generation Jones counterparts, knowing what’s actually happening behind the curtain has alleviated to a large part my personal misgivings regarding my online privacy. Certainly privacy concerns are greater for older age cells. That is increasingly me. However, I’m in the business, and know that in most cases it is not me being targeted or tracked but rather my computer. And while I’d very much mind someone scrolling through my checkout list at my local library, I welcome Amazon and Netflix making recommendations for me (well, my account) using their algorithms. I feel the same about targeted ads. I know advertising is the engine that provides free content for my enjoyment, and being fed ads that are relevant to me strikes me as a great time saver. Some recent studies show that consumers’ issues with online targeting may be leveling off. And while clearly still in the negative range, educating consumers that personally identifiable information is NOT tied to behavioral targeting doubles their favorability towards the practice. Throwing light on what is really tracked and how it is used could help move more consumers along the acceptance continuum.
Concerns Are Real & Should Be Respected
There is certainly information available to advertisers that could be misused, and consumers have every right to demand transparency and accountability. Respecting consumers’ feelings on privacy and enhancing choice increases favorable feelings towards the advertiser, an additional reason to ask consumers to participate in what they see. So, target, but be open. Empower consumers along the way. Moving forward, many media channels have the potential to become much more targeted. Customized TV spots loom large, and mobile technologies make individual out-of-home experiences more and more likely. Consumers will increasingly be confronted with their feelings on privacy issues, and advertisers must be there with them. Perhaps I’m in the minority. But with my permission, my TV is welcome to join my computer in an “open-kimono” relationship with ad serving — all in the interest of making my viewing experience more efficient and relevant. However, I have to admit, if wall displays start addressing me by name, without my permission, even I might start wondering if Tom Cruise is lurking around the next corner. And not in a good way.