More money than ever is flowing into online advertising: $8.4 billion in the first quarter of this year, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
And yet, the advertising industry — along with the online publishing industry — is under attack. It’s under attack from federal regulators and Congress threatening legislation that would essentially kill online behavioral advertising and, in so doing, cripple much of the advertising ecosystem.
Perhaps most frustrating is that an industry-wide Do Not Track (DNT) standard is being hammered out behind closed doors. I’m referring to the ongoing W3C meetings where DNT guidelines — ones that will shape our industry’s long-term future — are being constructed with little regard for what consumers really want or the negative impact on our economy. We can no longer remain spectators. To the contrary, we must aggressively work to shape legislation that will both respect user privacy and support one of the brightest spots in the economy: ad tech.
Why would an end to online behavioral advertising be so devastating to the advertising and publishing industries? Online behavioral advertising is arguably the single most effective means that brands have ever had for reaching consumers with relevant advertising. And it serves as one of the main forms of revenue for online publishers, large and small alike. Undoubtedly, a large chunk of the $300 billion worth of economic activity within the U.S. created by the online advertising ecosystem is directly tied to the success of behavioral advertising.
Too many in the industry sit passively, hoping for the best. Should these forces, which include academics, the FTC and other groups that are advocating an absolutist form of Do Not Track, be allowed to determine the future of the advertising ecosystem, online publishers and, by extension, our economy as a whole?
In short, my answer is, hell no! We need to fight for a Do Not Track standard that allows the consumer to choose to opt out of behavioral advertising if she wants, while simultaneously preserving the industry’s ability to serve extremely relevant advertising.
Make no mistake about it: The parties that would like to turn back the clock on online advertising are fierce. If we don’t do something, we can expect Congress to act in favor of a very strict interpretation of Do Not Track next year. The irony here is that the advertising industry, which works to change perceptions and create powerfully engaging campaigns for clients, is doing little to help itself. We are fully capable of articulating and fighting for the adoption of an easy-to-navigate consumer-privacy solution that benefits consumers and our industry.
Some steps you can take to speak up for the industry include communicating with your representatives in Congress by explaining why the existence of the online advertising industry — and its jobs — is at stake, why it is up to them to not yield in the face of the privacy hawks who would argue otherwise. You should also reach out to the FTC at email@example.com. The FTC should be protecting small- to medium-sized businesses, not standing behind four large browser companies empowering them to shut us down. Voice your opinion publicly by tweeting your view at “#KeeptheWebFree #DNTrack #W3C.” Finally, keep making great online ads: campaigns that consumers engage with, appreciate and are inspired by.
If you’ve read up to this point, you clearly care about what’s at stake: the prospect of massive job layoffs throughout our industry and a subsequent blow to our already teetering economy. I was raised to believe that to watch wrongdoings and do nothing is as bad as being the instigator of that harm. I hope you feel the same way. I truly believe that if we collectively participate, we can and will make a difference.
Allie Kline is the CMO of 33Across, a social advertising company.