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Dominic Mills 

Dolphins, privacy debates and crap ads

Dolphins, privacy debates and crap ads

As Advertising Week kicks off, Dominic Mills begins the arduous task of wading through some unrelentingly crap ads - whilst dodging Orwellian spamming from EE and getting set for a timely debate over ad blocking.

Right, in this column I'm going to tie together a couple of things that happened to me last week in the mobile/tech space, and then link it with AdWeek, and in particular a session I'm chairing on Wednesday.

The link with dolphins and privacy will be clear as you read through.

The reference to crap ads: that's partly to do with the sort of ads I'd like to protect myself from - especially in the mobile area - and also to do with answering this question: Why are the ads in the Advertising Week book-of-the-conference so unrelentingly crap?

If you don't believe me, take a look while you're sitting through a boring session.

Strange, isn't it? AdWeek is supposed to represent the best, the latest, the most bleeding-edge stuff in adland and medialand, and yet what ads do we get from the likes of Amazon/Dennis/LinkedIn/Facebook/Dentsu/Havas (the list is endless)?

What we get is idea-free zones, the most pathetic visual metaphors, and copy that is either a) lame b) clichéd or c) hopelessly self-aggrandising and therefore self-delusional. Sometimes all three.

*Read to the bottom of this column to find my candidate for the most self-deluded of all.

Back to the day job. Privacy. Mobile phone spamming.

What should pop up on my phone last week - entirely unprompted - is a spam from EE about a service called 'EE Recommends', which should perhaps be renamed 'EE laughs in the face of my privacy as it tries to gouge even more money out of me'.

And I'm wondering: Why me? Why now?

And, as EE tries to tell me in best Orwellian style, this is actually "good news [because], it's a free service [that] sends me special offers from other great brands via text. All messages are free to receive and reply to."

This particular offer was for Nescafé's Azera, half price in Tesco and then with a Clubcard link to a chance to win a Samsung TV.

And talking of crap ads, it was just a text. You can see from this thread on the EE community pages that I am not the only customer to be annoyed by this. Odd too, that in this age of two-way conversation, EE has chosen to ignore these reactions.

The answer, of course, is for me to withdraw my permission, which I will.

This is by no means the worst experience facing consumers, but it is behaviours and attitudes like EE's that should be worrying the advertising community. For all the talk of moving into a new, responsible, careful era of marketing, there will always be someone who messes it up.

This creates fertile ground for the adblockers, which is not the way to go if we want a healthy media economy.

As I understand it, adblocking penetration levels are up around the 10-15% mark across many sites, with figures of 13% at the Guardian and even higher on C4.

For publishers and advertisers, these stats must be pretty scary.

In this context, the Mutual Media-sponsored debate on 2nd April at AdWeek, entitled 'Squeaky Dolphins, Personal Advertising and the Uncanny Valley', is timely and relevant. ('Squeaky dolphins', by the way, refers to a US National Security Agency programme that pries into and analyses social media data.)

I'll be chairing the session, and we'll be seeing new research from GfK into what real people actually think about the advertising/privacy balance, how they react to the new era of personal advertising, where the personal data economy is heading, and debating with the likes of the Guardian, Xaxis and Amnet what publishers and advertisers can do about it.

One answer is through partnerships such as Mutual Media's AdPlus product, which is both a consumer proposition that allows consumers to block the ads they don't want and see those they do - theoretically improving their advertising experience - and one that can be harnessed by publishers and advertisers.

Another model is to pay people to see ads. One in mobile is Qustodian's, with which I register my preferences and which pays me whenever I view or interact with an ad.

UK awareness for Qustodian is still low, but it has a decent user base in Spain of almost 300,000. Some users are making €2,000 a year off it - which probably says something about the state of the Spanish economy - but indicates there is a proper market out there.

In the UK, advertisers (according to my preferences) include Matalan, Debenhams, Expedia and Fox, which is also providing video content from trailers. Mostly, the ads are decent quality and my experience is a positive one.

It is routes such as these, whether through Mutual Media or Qustodian, that need to be explored if we are, not to put too fine a point on it, save advertising from itself.

*And the prize for the most self-delusional ad in the AdWeek book goes to...IPG Mediabrands. "It's time for someone to take full responsibility for their clients' total business outcomes", the copy boldly states. "We are that someone."

Er, no, not 'total business outcomes'. That's a step too far. Get real.

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