Ogilvy’s Steve Simpson Calls for More Online Ad Transparency

Examples of broken trust threaten use of big data

In the age of big data, advertisers need to get their act together when it comes to online privacy. That was the takeaway from Ogilvy & Mather North America chief creative officer Steve Simpson’s keynote address at the National Advertising Division’s annual conference, which is meeting this week in New York to discuss regulatory issues impacting the ad business.

“Just because you have technology end-runs, doesn’t mean you should get away with it,” Simpson told Adweek following his speech.

These days, the mere mention of the term “big data” sets off  privacy advocates’ clarion call for more regulation to protect consumers’ rights. The issue has become front and center for advertisers that are anxious to take advantage of online data analysis to make advertising more relevant.

Making it tough for advertisers to convince consumers and the rest of the world that interest-based advertising isn’t the Big Bad Wolf of the Internet are plenty of reported examples that have led consumers to believe they are being individually profiled, such as the example of Target using a pregnancy predictive score to target a high schooler with baby products.

“There are examples of broken trust with the consumer. It’s a respect issue, but it’s also a massive creative issue,” Simpson said during his keynote.

“Advertisers need to stop doing stupid stuff,” Simpson told Adweek.

The kind of “stupid stuff” Simpson was referring to includes failure to be transparent with consumers about online targeting and tracking. Kia, for example, has been called out by the ad industry’s self-regulatory program for online behavioral advertising because the company served ads to consumers without giving them proper notice to opt out. Kia has instructed Initiative, its media agency, to make sure that the third-party networks it uses to serve the ads are in compliance with the online interest-based advertising accountability principles.

Advertisers that fail to comply with the self-regulatory program give more fuel to privacy advocates who see interest-based advertising as trickery that warrants tighter regulation.

“There’s a higher burden on marketers and advertisers to provide openness and choice for the consumer,” Simpson said.

Simpson is beginning to “dig deep” into the many platforms his agency uses, such as Facebook and Google, to see how the agency is dealing with privacy issues. “We can’t enter a poisonous environment,” he said, expressing a personal frustration with Facebook’s privacy controls.

“As a user, I feel like there is an opaqueness about [Facebook’s] policies,” Simpson said. “We’re in a the pioneering days and we have to apply the same standards to these platforms as we do with our other partners.”