A colleague of mine recounted a recent family escape to the mountains, complaining that a massive white billboard suddenly hijacked the Norman Rockwell scene of emerald trees and endless fields. Seconds later, her 10-year-old daughter curiously screeched out, "MOM, what's a 'lip-po'?" Exasperated by the prompt, she and her husband immediately rolled their eyes and thought, really? In addition to why-is -the-sky-blue-and-the-grass-green questions, we apparently now have to tell our ten-year-olds what liposuction is in 2012. That's right. Strewn across this behemoth sign, were bright red, block letters exclaiming what we should all be doing with our love handles. My colleague went as far to suggest that they would have paid, or done just about anything, to avoid that self-esteem/surgery conversation with their pre-tween.
Our Future Is So Bright, We're Headed Toward More Lipo Ads
Right now, our industry is grappling with the best way to implement the latest FTC Do Not Track initiative. With controversy around some of the definitions within its latest report, it's evident that this FTC mechanism could have some major implications for the future of the web. For instance, if advertisers are not able to deliver targeted advertising, will the Internet look like a valley of tacky billboards? Chances are, yes. If Do Not Track is construed to mean a stoppage of all data collection and "data brokers" are defined as, essentially, all of us, a more severe rendition of this initiative could mean saying goodbye to tailored information and advertising and hello (again) to a constant barrage of flashy weight loss and penile implant ads. Pondering this contentious issue in relation to the billboard episode, I got to thinking: in the future will we want to pay for relevant ads?
You Don't Get Something For Nothing
If consumers truly understood opting out of data would lead to a flood of irrelevant or inappropriate ads, I think the pendulum would swing fully in favor of sharing (anonymous) data. Without a doubt, I'd prefer to be presented information pertinent to my interests and needs, and what I've spent that last 40 million hours of online time browsing through. To be patently clear, this is not, and has never been, an invitation for marketers to exploit on my personal information; rather it's a two-fold plea for them to get their privacy standards in-line, so we can arrive at a peaceful resolution of the Do Not Track debate, and also innovate the application of consumer data. Both are feasible missions and if marketers don't make it happen soon, Federal policy might inadvertently draw a line that ends the non-lipo ad Internet experience we've come to relish.
The latter point forces us to reconcile what some of us never thought imaginable: paying for the content we want—not just the WSJ or Netflix, but everything. With the way things are currently going down in the publishing sector and Washington as well, we might have to come to terms with the fact that free content is a fleeting luxury, and be required to shell out for a higher quality Internet experience devoid of random, disruptive content. (If you're not sure what this looks like, take a traumatizing trip down memory lane to pre-pop-up-blocker era type ads.) The notion of paying for useful information and bearable advertising is counterintuitive to the whole consumer experience that we in the industry would like to create and personally enjoy ourselves—so why would we ever let it get to that point?
It's time for consumers and lawmakers to truly understand the multifaceted issue at hand. If we don't allow publishers and 3rd parties to collect basic, anonymous information about us—our interests and habits—we will all be confronted with unfriendly reminders of the rejuvenating invention of liposuction (insert sarcasm). And, if struggling publisher brands can't effectively monetize their freely accessible content through advertising; we'll see even more paywalls go up. These two issues are inextricable and should be holistically considered by the many businesses that will be affected by today's negotiations. It's not too late for the multitude of Do Not Track implementers to work together to establish a well-rounded privacy code that preserves benefits for both users and brands alike. Oh, and for those that truly want to receive a lipo ad, they'll see it exactly when and where it's most valuable to them.