David Dayen asking all the right questions in The New Republic – for whom does targeted advertising actually work, other than the bleedin’ obvious?

“The surveillance economy should die. This manner of advertising doesn’t serve the public and it’s not even clear it serves advertisers. It facilitates monopoly, as those with the biggest data troves receive all the ad dollars. That centralizes the potential for and magnitude of abuse…

David Dayen, ‘Ban Targeted Advertising’, The New Republic, 10.04.18

Now there’s an interesting thought. Ban targeted advertising.

What’s interesting is the simple rationale behind David’s timely contention – who wins? From targeted advertising?

Does he, the consumer, fell any more empowered product-choice wise now that his private data is routinely harvested for brand and agency gain? Or rather Facebook and Google gain…

“Do the benefits of targeted ads for consumers outweigh the risks and downsides of mass data collection? That’s unclear. Back when targeted ads didn’t follow me around the internet, I still somehow found what I wanted to buy…

It’s an open question. Do targeted ads that creepily follow us around the web make us more or less likely to buy said product? Or even worse, if its post-purchase, am I more or less attached to that brand now that it keeps popping up into my line of sight?

David continues with the same question the recent Warc data answered – does targeted ads make publishers that much the richer for being so ‘clever’ when it comes to granular audience segmentation? Down to an individual voter level if the nefarious activities of Cambridge Analytica and their cohorts are to be believed.

According to Warc, ‘working media’ can now bank, on average, 28% revenue returns from the world of programmatic advertising in whose tangled undergrowth targeted ads thrive and survive.

That doesn’t sound like much of a winner if I’m a hard-pressed publisher. Why, here at Addiply Towers, we believe in Evslin’s Law of Ad Networks – that the winning ad network of the future will be the one that charges publishers the least, the longest. 85% in our case.

“Is targeting good for media companies that get top dollar for access to their audience? No. Facebook and Google have decimated brand value by tracking people across the web, not only when they visit the Wall Street Journal or Seventeen magazine,” David asks.

No, is the simple answer. See Warc above.

Does it work for advertisers? Marc Pritchard at Proctor & Gamble clearly thought there was room for improvement when he dropped his gauntlet at the feet of the AdTech Nation last year.

And what exactly would Google and Facebook lose if the regulators went for the surveillance jugular? Not market share. For now, that’s hard coded into global DNA, web-wise.

“The tech-platform giants have been the main beneficiaries of the surveillance economy, their earnings skyrocketing the moment they unleashed the power of mass spying. Facebook, without personalized ads, would still have an audience of two billion users. Google, without personalized ads, would still host billions of searches daily on their site…”

As good and as pertinent as David’s piece is, there is one other ‘consumer’ group that probably demands a greater airing – are targeted ads to the individual level now practiced by Google and Facebook good for governments? As Congress started to wonder via their five-hour grilling of Mark Zuckerberg last week.

Do targeted ads make their lives any easier?

To which the answer is unquestionably ‘No!’

‘Was the Brexit poll compromised – we may need a public debate about that,’ was the answer that Damian Collins of DCMS fame here in the UK offered by way of conclusion when quizzed by The Observer this weekend.

Has it, in short, made politicians life any easier that voters can be individually targeted?


Not if it clouds a vote as crucial to a nation’s future as Brexit with doubt and uncertainty; rather it makes Damian Collins’ life a misery.

Which merely hammers home David’s point.

“The easiest way to eliminate the darkest forces of the internet is to ban targeted ads.”

Suits us down to the ground, mind.  You read a sports blog about a soccer club in the city of Norwich, you don’t need to be Alexander Nix to know they probably have some affinity with the city of Norwich.

And you don’t need to be any more ‘targeted’ in your kit or capabilities than that.

Life is made to be simple, not complex.

Complexity costs.

And if it – a simple piece of regulation – costs the ad tech industry 000s of jobs, so be it.

“That thousands of well-educated, well-trained innovators might have to find another line of work is worth the price of ridding the country of the surveillance economy. I have far more confidence that a Bay Area coder will land on their feet than a textile worker in the South in the 1980s….”

They could even learn to sell advertising.

The old fashioned way.



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