Welcome to the new age of privacy. Or is it the new age of piracy? Well, that depends on whether you’re asking the tech platforms or the advertisers.
Apple intends to put your privacy back under your control, and Google has sworn to defend you from unwanted cookies. Long overdue but welcome decisions that put both companies firmly on the side of humanity. After years of surreptitious data-scraping, the duopoly behind the two dominant mobile phone operating systems agreed to put their grubby digital hands back in their pockets.
This is mirrorworld, and it promises to treat individuals as if they were, well, actual people. No longer will you be tracked like a rat in a maze.
So how have brands, always the champions of their customers, responded?
Most marketers are doing everything they can to stop it. In digital labs and hidden bunkers across the globe, brands are working tirelessly to make sure your business is their business.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that P&G has been working with “dozens of China trade groups” to develop new techniques for gathering iPhone user data in an effort to circumvent Apple’s new privacy options. How comforting to know that the largest packaged goods advertiser is partnering with the world’s leading surveillance state to track you with the same attention given to Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
What could go wrong?
Publicis Groupe just announced a global deal with The Trade Desk to develop alternatives for tracking online behavior in response to Google’s intent to eliminate third-party cookies. Remember, Publicis bought Epsilon for over 4 billion dollars, so they have no choice but to justify that investment.
Digital privacy, what a quaint idea!
Too many brands are betting the future of marketing is data, not ideas. That’s because brands and agencies, on the whole, have run out of ideas. Alienate or lay off enough creative talent to make the margins work and soon the well of creativity runs dry. Like Hollywood turning to sequels and remakes, the ad industry is recycling ideas for clients who want them faster and cheaper.
Programmatic proponents argue that they deliver more tailored messaging, customized experiences and more contextual creative. Maybe that’s true, but isn’t the real power of a brand the ability to bring disparate people together around shared values? People who never thought they’d have anything in common with other users of the brand suddenly find common ground around sport, fashion, self-expression, or giving back.
The egalitarian promise of Apple’s “1984,” the subversive hilarity of Old Spice, the celebration of diversity on Coca-Cola’s mountaintop. These are ideas that transcend targeting. Like an original movie that boosts the box office or fresh sound that takes over the charts, big ideas don’t have to find you. You find them.
Ads have to be targeted, but ideas get shared and remembered. Ideas change how we think and feel, and a big enough idea will change how a brand behaves. Our industry needs fewer ads and more ideas.
The internet has transformed from the information superhighway to a decaying shopping mall where marketers stalk their prey around every corner. Brands promulgate digital advertising with the same pedantic persistence of packaged goods advertisers from the heyday of television, with the naive belief that brand recognition is the same as brand likability or advocacy, and it’s not. Entertain me, or inspire me, but stop bugging me. No matter how many times you knock on my door, you can’t pester your way into my pantry.
This is the great programmatic irony. The more brands truly know about their customers—the more they can access personal data that identifies you as an individual—the less likely they are to treat you like one. Never has the industry term “target” been more appropriate.
Not everyone agrees. Facebook has vociferously protested Apple’s move to let users decide which data to share, saying it inhibits Facebook’s ability to serve customized content. But the real problem is that unlike Apple and Google, Facebook lacks a diversified business model. (It turns out there isn’t much money to be made from remembering birthdays, facilitating cyber-bullying and providing a safe place for terrorists to mingle.) That’s why Facebook has been caught with their hand in your cookie jar more than any other platform. Ads on Facebook are annoying at best unless they are tailored, in which case they are merely distracting. Without the ability to track your every step, the entire platform (and the cookie) crumbles.
Who would you rather control your personal data, you or the big tech platforms? Your kids or Facebook? Do brands really have to think twice before the answers are clear?
This is not to suggest data isn’t essential to any modern marketing campaign. Nor to imply that customers don’t appreciate personalization in messaging or acknowledgment after a purchase. Customer experience continues to be the growth opportunity for brands everywhere.
But as brands increasingly confront questions about where to spend their money and how to treat their customers, it’s no longer a question of what can be done to target someone, but what should be done.
Brands got along fine before they knew who you were because they put forth ideas that attracted you to them. At its best, that’s how marketing works. Somewhere along the way that got turned around, and now we’re all lost.
Because in mirrorworld, everything is backward.