Why Do Not Track Will Make Online Advertising Better (Seriously)

Legislation Will Force Us to Be More Focused, Relevant and Innovative

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It seems a foregone conclusion among digital marketers: proposed Do-Not-Track legislation will kill online advertising. How could it not, with restricted access to consumer data, plus regulatory oversight of online ad-tracking efforts?

But that 's not the case. Anti-tracking legislation will make online advertising more focused and relevant to consumers. It will set into motion a more innovative and prosperous era of digital marketing, dominated by a healthy respect for consumers' wishes about how their data are collected and used, and innovative advertising that meets their needs.

Prominent marketers have called for a "fight [against the] anti-tracking forces." The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) claims that anti-tracking proposals "accelerate and fan the flames of fear and confusion in the advertising community and with consumers." The Alliance has initiated a campaign against Microsoft's commitment to ship its latest version of Internet Explorer with a default Do-Not-Track setting.

I respect this argument, but it comes about 10 years too late. Some form of anti-tracking legislation is inevitable, given the industry's size and influence. While I do not wish to see this legislation passed, it will not destroy online advertising. The industry is too large, innovative and diverse.

Do Not Track will force marketers to be more creative in their campaigns, tapping into legally available data -- users' expressed interests. This will foster deeper and more relevant connections between brands and consumers and benefit online advertisers in the long run.

Advertisers must take two critical steps to ensure that legislation does not exact taxing restraints on digital marketing. The first has to do with the industry's continual innovation. The second requires marketers to take a hard look at their own actions.

Numerous products and services exist that help agencies and advertisers target consumers and collect publicly available data. If Do-Not-Track legislation is passed -- compelling advertisers and publishers to collect consumer information offline -- those capabilities will remain.

Legislation would force brands to shift their online marketing spend to social media and vertical-specific sites where users' demographic data is already registered via their expressed interests. Consider Facebook's nascent ad exchange that will help the social network generate revenue from retargeting users' data. Immediate beneficiaries of this shift in spending will be database-management platforms and big-data markets. Companies like Bluekai, Mediaplex, Bizo, Exelate and many others will be relied on for the data that can legally be targeted, stored and appropriately marketed.

Advertising agencies with strong technology and media-buying skills will build their own plans to take advantage of a sudden influx of business opportunities arising from advertisers no longer having easy, legal access to customer data.

Innovations in technology and ad delivery will continue whether anti-tracking legislation is enacted or not. But a stronger commitment to self-regulation by advertisers and marketers would thwart any existential threat from DNT to online advertising's future.

Organizations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau, DAA and Performance Marketing Association have pushed for stronger industry self-regulation to ward off anti-tracking regulations. These efforts should continue. But they can't take place within a vacuum. They require ardent buy-in from advertisers and marketers, not a cry to fight anti-tracking forces. The former ensures continual freedom for growth and innovation in online marketing; the latter is a battle marketers are likely to lose. It is a battle that will damage the industry's credibility with brands and its reputation with consumers.

The argument that Do Not Track will destroy online advertising may generate bold headlines but does little to move the debate over online data tracking forward. If marketers don't want their online ad tracking efforts regulated, they should embrace self-regulation and find creative ways to work with consumers—not against them.

A version of this op-ed first appeared in AdExchanger.
Peter Klein is senior VP-media services at MediaWhiz, part of the Hyper Marketing Inc. network.
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