The Web ad industry's leading trade group is breaking a major campaign it hopes will make users less scared of the tactics used to target advertising messages.
The "Privacy Matters" campaign, created by WPP Group's Schematic, takes the counterintuitive approach of running alarmist messages in ad units. One reads, "Advertising is creepy." Mousing over the ad, users see a chunk of text reading, "Or at least that's what you'd think based on the fact that advertisers are trying to show you ads based on what they know about you. But the information they're using isn't personally identifiable. We have lots of materials and discussions about advertising and data privacy on our site. If that sort of thing interests you, we'd love it if you'd click and help spark the discussion."
IAB members are running 500 million banner ad impressions through the early part of next year as part of the push. The campaign drives users to an IAB Web site. Its goal is to begin the tough task of educating consumers about the complicated methods used to target ads -- and combat alarmist claims by privacy groups long critical of the industry and pushing for greater government regulation.
Until now, the industry has largely passed the buck on directly addressing ad targeting with consumers. AOL broke a brief campaign in March 2008 that used a penguin to attempt to explain cookie-based targeting.
The IAB is skipping the mascot approach in favor of text-heavy ads.
"It's tough because it's a technical, complicated issue," said Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Schematic. "There's a lot of jargon. People currently conflate many different privacy and security issues into one category. The reality is relevant advertising is a more positive user experience than anonymous scattershot advertising. To get rid of that when people's concerns are phishing scams and viruses doesn't make a lot of sense."
The risk exists, of course, that consumers who do not interact with the ads will only see the alarmist messages like, "Hey, this banner ad can tell where you live! Mind if we come over and sell you some stuff?"
David Doty, svp of thought leadership at the IAB, said the campaign is deliberately provocative in order to yank the privacy discussion onto more rational ground.
"We want to have the discussion in place that's not about unfounded fears," he said. "We want it to be about why there's value in online advertising and the way it's delivered."
Doty said government regulators and even some consumer groups briefed on the campaign believed it was a positive move, although he conceded that the Internet industry has not won over many privacy groups.
"If anyone is seriously interested in educating consumers about online privacy, we think that's a great thing," he said. "But if it's about fear or an attempt to completely get rid of advertising we believe that doesn't help the American economy or the American consumer."