The success (or failure) of the still-nascent behavioral targeting (BT) online ad segment will depend on public and Congressional perceptions of the technology and how intrusive it’s seen to be. BT and a number of related, targeting variations are being seen as critical to the performance of display advertising online and are often celebrated as the cure to historical “banner blindness” (so is video).
If consumers have to see ads, almost without exception they would rather see ads that are more “relevant” to their interests and needs than ones that are not. However, the concept of being tracked by publishers and ad networks in order to deliver those more relevant ads is unsettling to many.
Thus AOL (which acquired BT firm Tacoda) has proposed allowing consumers to “opt-out” of BT style targeting and tracking. And then there’s also the proposed “do not track” list that would be to online advertising what the do not call list is to telemarketing. There’s also a US FTC “town hall meeting” coming up later this week to examine “behavioral advertising” and its impact on consumer privacy.
The AOL opt-out initiative amounts to something of a proactive or call it a preemptive effort on the part of ad networks to prevent BT from becoming a PR liability, as click fraud became for SEM. But there’s also heat coming for privacy advocates who want to see significant restrictions imposed on consumer tracking, which is central to BT.
If you ask consumers “Ads or no ads?,” they’ll opt for the latter generally. Indeed, the bulk of the action surrounding BT and whether or not it gets regulated is about framing, perception and, to some degree, semantics. Indeed, “relevant” ads are desirable, while “behaviorally targeted” ads are not.