Saturday, January 30, 2010

Privacy and Relevance

There's a poll on linkedin that asks an interesting question

The best advertising I’ve seen online is:

* Popups that open up all over the place, opening new windows when I try to close them
* Ads that tell me I have won a million dollars by the virtue of being visitor number XXXXXX, or the ones that mimic a Windows alert dialog telling me my infected computer needs to be purged of its virii
* In text links that popup a window when the mouse moves over them even by mistake (or video ads that start playing for the same reason)
* All of the above

No points for guessing that I am kidding. Never would anyone ask a question that honest. They asked this instead.

The best advertising I’ve seen online :

* Provides useful information and content
* entertains me with video and sound
* appears before a page loads
* allows me to interact with the ad
As a self proclaimed online advertising expert, I went ahead and choose the third option (appears before a page loads). But the 118 people who had chosen to answer begged to differ

Now what good I would be as an expert if my opinion was the same as the masses? Jokes apart, the results of this poll reflect our infatuation with metrics, and one unfortunate tradeoff. Surely, "You can't manage what you can't measure" makes for a great quote, and the ability to measure performance is one of the USP's of our industry, but this obsession has done us a great deal of harm. First, because going by the metrics that we commonly employ - all the tactics I presented as the options for the non existent linkedin poll at the start of this post, and which would make the most even the greatest fanboys of online advertising turn in their graves (there are no fanboys of online advertising - hence the grave example), will be counted among the best performing advertising seen online. They all enjoy a very high click through rate, appear to be more engaging than anything else for the advertiser, and generate more revenue for the publishers who run them. But more importantly, everyone seems to miss the tradeoff between privacy and relevance. In order that we target you better than we currently do, we need to know more about you, and that does require you giving up some of your privacy. We need to know what is 'useful information' - because one man's useful information can be another man's ... Okay, okay - no more cliches for you now.

So the unfortunate trade off between privacy and relevance is what we have to live with now. The better we become at being relevant, the more spooky it is going to appear to the average netizen, and the more concerned she is going to be about online advertising. And that is why I feel, with 95% confidence, that 61% of linkedin is mistaken. And that the best advertising after all is advertising that doesn't takes up our limited bandwidth, advertising that loads fast, and not the flashturbation we sometimes see. After all, we have found static gif banners performing better than flash and this could be the only rational explanation, however improbable, because that is the only explanation left after eliminating the impossible. But I would keep this for another post.


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