GDPR: a treat for some, a trick for others
For some it will give rise to a new golden era of advertising, for others it means the end of their business. Dominic Mills sinks his teeth into the biggest shake-up to privacy law in two decades.
There’s about 200 days to go before GDPR comes into force (25 May) so I’ve been randomly testing the industry’s appetite for it. Although I suspect some people are lying through gritted teeth, the mood is generally positive. “It’ll clear the system out” is a rough approximation of the vibe.
Yes, they acknowledge, there may be serious pain for the advertising ecosystem initially, but eventually we’ll get to a better place where quality will win out and bad actors will clean up or disappear.
Not everyone shares this view. In an outburst of what I can only describe as solipsistic paranoia, one US ad tech supplier I spoke to saw it as a thinly disguised EU plot to hobble the tech giants, and his business along with it.
Honestly. It’s for consumers, pure and simple. This is exactly as it should be, and when you consider that the current data legislation was enacted in 1995 and introduced in 1998, it’s about time too. In tech terms, the mid 90s are like the Dark Ages.
Next week, on Halloween to be precise - hence the trick or treat reference - I’ll be hosting a couple of seminars on behalf of Rezonence, whose Freewall is a device to help publishers monetise their content, on this very subject.
So who - apart from consumers - is tricked, and who treated? In a nutshell, GDPR regulates the use of all personal data in advertising, and includes both personally identifiable information as available through cookies and advertising IDs; what the EU calls sensitive information, such as racial or ethnic origin, health and financial information; and even, as I understand it, political opinions and sexual preferences.
The foundation of all this is consumer consent, which advertisers and publishers need to trigger any personalised advertising, even to existing customers. And not just a one-off blanket consent, platform wide, in perpetuity. Each advertiser requires it, every six months.
What incentive do consumers have to consent to tracking? Bugger all, and it is not as if publishers or platforms can withdraw services from those who withhold it.
It’s immensely complex, and interpretation is likely to be subjective. There will no doubt be many test cases, and fingers will be burned along the way.
But, as I understand it from talking to various experts, there are a few implications to draw.
As a rough rule of thumb, the closer you get the personalisation, the more GDPR applies. One way not to get caught up in GDPR is to avoid personalisation by focusing, for example, on context. This would, I think, favour premium publishers who provide quality editorial context that is attractive to advertisers, but who currently do not get much reward for this.
In the long run, I suspect, we will see a depersonalisation of digital advertising, with the possible upside that advertisers will have to invest more in creativity to achieve cut-through.
Of course ad tech and advertisers think personalisation is nirvana - although I have to say I can never get two people to define personalisation exactly the same way. But I’m yet to be convinced that the consumer sees personalisation as much of a benefit to them, largely because it’s either invasive or the advertisers’ definition of ‘the consumer persona’ is partial and therefore not one the consumer actually recognises.
But assuming there are some consumers who are happy with personalisation, what is the best route to get their consent? Again, I think, this plays to the strengths of premium publishers who are likely to already have good, trusted, relationships with consumers. The deeper and the longer the relationship a consumer has with a publisher, the more likely they will give consent, especially if the publisher can link it to incentives such as loyalty rewards or super-premium content - a sort of non-paying, easy-to-climb wall.
There’s some good stuff on this here from Dr Johnny Ryan of Pagefair. In short, he thinks this will prove an extremely steep mountain to climb.
And who are the biggest potential losers? Anyone in the ad system who doesn’t have a direct relationship with the consumer, which in this case comprises many of those who sit in the middle between advertisers and publishers - i.e. those third-party trackers who unceremoniously hoover up information without the consumer really knowing or understanding what’s going on. They will be forced to beg for consumer consent without being able to offer any meaningful benefit in return. So that’s them buggered, I think, and no loss either.
And what about the duopoly? They sit in an interesting position. Yes, they have deep (and for the most part trusted) relationships with consumers, but at the same time large parts of their business model depend on tracking and personalisation. According to Pagefair, which is very good on this, YouTube, Gmail and DoubleClick are all in the firing line for Google. For Facebook, Audience Network and WhatsApp are similarly exposed, but the Newsfeed less so as long as advertisers stay away from the super sensitive stuff (race, sexuality, health and so on).
That, roughly speaking, is my take on the various conversations I’ve had to date and what I’ve read. I’ll be finding out more at the Rezonence sessions and reporting any fresh thinking from them.
In particular, I have two questions.
One, if applicable inventory or supply decreases (i.e. down from, as now, infinity), what effect will that have on prices, especially for premium publishers?
Two, how will this shake-out change the agency business model?
But let me leave you with a paraphrased version of what one unequivocal optimist said to me last month. In essence, he believes, GDPR will see the industry move from a questionable future in the the murky shadows to the sunny uplands.
His view: “As of now, there are huge question marks about the sustainability of the current system. Privacy concerns, tracking fears and adblocking are obvious symptoms of the consumer revolt against ad tech. But GDPR, because it is based on consumer consent, gives the industry a sustainable future.”
Let’s hope he’s right.
AA waves the flag for ‘Bradvertising’ industry
Ok, I’ve just made up a new word - ‘Bradvertising’ - to describe any conversation or debate about the British advertising industry in the context of Brexit.
Last week saw a major Bradvertising initiative launched by the Advertising Association, picked up - like here - by the national media.
You can read the original study here. It reveals the extent to which overseas talent plays a role in making Bradvertising a world force. Even those who know the industry might be surprised.
I think the AA should get some plaudits for its efforts here. In the past it has sometimes looked like an organisation in search of a role, but of late it's got the bit between its teeth on some big issues - the economic and societal benefits of advertising, for example, as well as portrayal of racial diversity.
And now Bradvertising. Its role here is to remind the government of the contribution Bradvertising makes to the economy, and therefore to push for recognition and, if absolutely necessary, exceptions to hiring rules that keep it open to foreign talent.
I have no idea if it will succeed. Every sector of the economy can make a special plea. But unlike, say, hospitality, tourism or agriculture - all of which have equally compelling claims for exceptional treatment - Bradvertising’s case is more about quality of income rather than quantity.
This might help. What else can the industry do? Well, in the worst scenario, if minimal talent can migrate to the UK, we need to start training up our own. So a major effort on that is absolutely necessary with as much industry help as possible. Let’s call it ‘Breducation’.