Is Your Direct Mail Trustworthy? 6 Ways to Make Sure It Is

Direct mail is a very popular and effective marketing channel. According to MarketingSherpa, 76% of people trust ads they receive in the mail. But do they trust yours? If you are not getting the expected response rate on your mail pieces, you could have a trust problem.

Direct mail is a very popular and effective marketing channel. According to MarketingSherpa, 76% of people trust ads they receive in the mail. But do they trust yours? If you are not getting the expected response rate on your mail pieces, you could have a trust problem.

There could be many reasons why your direct mail piece is not trustworthy. In order to get the best ROI, here are some key things to focus on as you design and write copy for your direct mail campaigns.

  • Testimonials  Real reviews from real people make a big difference. Be sure to use reviews that are clear and specific, as they are more believable. Make sure to include their names and, if possible, pictures. Of course only include ones that are relevant to what you are selling on your mail piece.
  • Cluttered — When you provide too much information on your mail piece, it can be confusing. People like skimming, so make it easy for them to understand what you are saying. You don’t want them to feel like you are hiding something in all of that extra copy. Bullet points and bolding will help highlight the most important information.
  • Content — Be direct and specific with your headlines, calls to action, and copy. Be realistic with your statements and promises. Authentic and direct messaging is the best way to build trust. Do what you say and say what you do. Under-promise and over-deliver to build customer loyalty.
  • Dated  Are you writing new copy for each campaign or are you picking up old copy? Check your copy for out-of-date wording. These days, information is changing very quickly. Your copy needs to change, too.
  • Fonts — Your choice of fonts matter. Fonts that are hard to read or super small sizes elicit suspicion. Use easy-to-read fonts. This does not mean you have to stick with Arial or Helvetica; you can still be creative with easy-to-read fonts. Do not use all caps. While it is OK to use smaller font sizes for less important information, there is no reason to use a 6pt font size on your direct mail.
  • Images — Are you using images with just your product in them, or are you using images where people are using your products? People relate to other people; make sure that you use images that include people.

Clear and compelling messaging is necessary to make the right impression. You only have a few seconds before you end up in the trash.. Your message is your brand promise; it cannot be vague and open to interpretation. This also includes over-promising or using bait-and-switch tactics. These things leave a very bad impression about you and your products or services.

People buy from people and companies they trust. Are you one of them? It’s not just what you say on your mail pieces, it’s how you say it that matters most. Honesty is the best policy, so stick to the golden rule. The colors you choose affect your prospects’ and customers’ moods, so make sure you are using the correct colors to go with your message. Not sure what the colors mean? Check out the colors post. Now you are set to create the most effective direct mail campaigns.

Why Google Going to the Dark Side Is Bad for Advertisers

Over time, the simplicity of Google’s results page has clearly eroded. In the beginning, Google’s clear user interface was beloved to search users for its ease of access and clarity. It was easy to spot ads, because they were clearly marked. The Google SERP today is visually very noisy, with lots of distractions.

Over time, the simplicity of Google’s results page has clearly eroded. In the beginning, Google’s clear user interface was beloved to search users for its ease of access and clarity. It was easy to spot ads, because they were clearly marked. The Google search engine results page today is visually very noisy, with lots of distractions.

Google rolled out its new UX on mobile several months ago, and — in mid-January — applied the changes to desktop search. Contrary to the company’s claims that the new design “puts a site’s brand front-and-center, helping searchers better understand where information is coming from, more easily scan results and decide what to explore.”

But the change, in fact, blurs the user’s ability to easily differentiate ads from organic listings. These most recent changes have taken the desktop search engine results page into the dark side, for its UX exhibits “dark patterns” in how it differentiates advertising from organic results. This has a significant downside for advertisers, organic search marketers, and their audiences.

Dark Patterns

Coined by Harry Brignull, a London-based UX designer in July 2010, “dark patterns” are user interfaces that are carefully crafted to trick users into taking an action. Although the current layout places a bold “Ad” indicator next to text ads, and shows favicons next to organic brand listings, it is easy for the user scanning a search page quickly to overlook the ad notation or confuse the ad notation with the similarly placed favicons. Many users choose not to click advertisements, preferring to skim the listings for the page that most clearly suggests the answer to their search query. Savvy users know that the ad may not, in fact, deliver the most relevant page for their query and are wary of paid advertisements.

Google has made it harder for the user to rapidly differentiate, particularly on noisy desktop pages, paid ads from organic content. This new layout is not as distracting on mobile, where the small screen makes each listing stand out. The smaller screen visually reduces the clutter, forcing the user to focus on each result card.

A single search for “high heels shoes” on a desktop yields a cluttered page that includes “sponsored” shopping ads, ads (marked with bold Ad indicator), a set of accordions with “People also ask,” a map and local listings box, and finally organic results.

With all of this distraction, the user is likely to click unintentionally on a poorly differentiated ad. In the future, it will be easy for Google to slip more ads into the pages without creating user awareness of the volume of ads being served.

Why Is This Bad?

When the user cannot clearly differentiate an ad from an organic listing, the advertiser pays for clicks that are unintentional. This depletes the advertiser’s budget, without delivering sales conversions. It is too early to tell the exact levels of the unintentional clicks, but it is my clear bet that there will be a significant volume of them.

Contrary to claims, the new UX is not good for the user. It forces the user to slow down to avoid making a perhaps erroneous decision. Rather than enhancing the user experience, the user will be less satisfied with the results delivered.

For organic search marketers, the redesign makes it imperative to have a favicon that works and clearer branding in the search Titles and Descriptions — because the actual link has been visually downgraded. It is now above the Title.

It is expected that Google will continue to test new ways to demarcate ads from content, but the continued blurring of paid and organic results only really benefits Google.

8 Direct Mail Enhancements, Other Than Paper, Finishing, Coating

Enhancing your direct mail through paper, finishing, and coatings are great, but there is one more category to discuss. And Part 4 in this series is about “other” direct mail enhancements.

Enhancing your direct mail through paper, finishing, and coatings are great, but there is one more category to discuss. And Part 4 in this series is about “other” direct mail enhancements.

So why use these things in your direct mail? The special effects of enhancements change the appearance, dimensions, and texture of your mail piece. They are beautiful and eye-catching, so that they draw attention to your message and increase your response rates.

So what are some options to consider in beyond paper, finishing, and coatings?

Other Types of Direct Mail Enhancements

  • Die Cuts: There are many options for die cutting, based on your design and desired effect. Make sure to consult with your mail service provider on postal regulations if you are sending a self-mailer. Create something really fun.
  • Maps: If you are trying to drive traffic to a store location or event, use personalized maps to show your prospects and customers how to get there. The easier you make it, the more likely they are to attend.
  • Informed Delivery: The post office has this program that sends emails to people who sign up every day with images of the mail pieces that they will get that day. You can include a web link with the image of your mail piece so that people can start shopping right away.
  • Personalization: Personalization of offers is an easy way to enhance the effectiveness of your mail pieces. When you send someone a special offer tailored to them, you drive response.
  • Augmented Reality: This is a really powerful and engaging enhancement for direct mail. You can make your mail pieces come to life when your prospects or customers scan the piece with their smartphone. This is only limited by your creativity and your budget. Imagine what experience you could create.
  • Video: You can include a video screen on your mail pieces to provide an enhanced way to share your message and create a little fun. Keep them no longer than 3 minutes and make sure they are not just informative but also entertaining.
  • Social Media: When you run social media ads for your mail list on Facebook or Instagram in conjunction with your mail pieces, you increase your response rates. Of course, they need to have the same offer and general design to be recognized as part of the same campaign.
  • Google Ads: Just like with social media ads, Google ads help increase response rates. You target only the people on your mail list by appending IP address information to it.

These are just some of the things you can do with your direct mail to enhance your ROI. When adding these enhancements, you increase the value of your mail piece and make a better impression. What we touch shapes what we feel, so how are you making your prospects and customers feel? Use enhancements to create a better experience.

One thing to keep in mind as you add enhancements, you increase the production time of your pieces. So make sure to add extra time into your schedule. Make the best impression with your next direct mail campaign and see your ROI increase. Are you ready to get started?

Dog’s-Eye View: Marketing Thinking That’s Outside of the ‘Dog Box’

TheDogTrainingSecret.com, which has out-of-the- box marketing thinking that relies on proven methods, should inspire copy mavens to resist the boring, tried-and-true benefit recitals and think about better ways (“narratives”) to capture the attention of dog lovers and sell them stuff. It’s about building relationships.

[Editor’s note: Peter Rosenwald may be pulling our legs saying that his dog, Jordan, wrote this post.]

My name is Jordan, and I’ll bet you didn’t know that in England, when you’ve been naughty, you are sent to the “dog box.” (It’s really your usual sleeping spot in the household. But your person says, “Stop that barking, or you’re going to the dog box!” So I’ve been there a lot.)

marketing thinking from Jordan
Jordan | Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

But now my person, Peter Rosenwald, is a big fan of TheDogTrainingSecret.com, which he says has lots of seemingly out-of-the- box marketing ideas that rely on proven methods — but should inspire copy mavens to resist the boring, tried-and-true benefit recitals and think about better ways (I think they are called “narratives”) to capture the attention of dog lovers and sell them lots of stuff. As the gurus keep saying, it’s all about building relationships. We dogs can be very good at that.

Chet Womach is the human personality behind DogTrainingSecret and he is the one writing to you or speaking on the promotional videos. He comes over as such a nice guy, with all of the same dog training problems as his clients and prospects, that you can’t resist his almost daily come-ons.

For a dog training masterclass, Womach sends you a “ONE-HOUR WARNING,” with just a bit of a threat:

“Now for some bad news …
There are more people registered for this
class than the system can actually hold.
… So please get there a few minutes early
to avoid losing your seat.”

My person says that’s one of the best calls to action he has ever seen. I think it might have been better if Womach offered a bonus of free dog biscuits. But what do I know? I know that, like our owners (we actually own them as much as they own us), we have foibles that might be smoothed out with a good fix.

That’s why Womach rolls over the idea of a “most beautiful” competition, and completely involves the prospect when he creates a “Caught In The Act” VIDEO CONTEST” to “Show me your dog’s WORST behavior … any habit you can’t break!!! … And you’ll be automatically entered to win 1 of 3 GRAND PRIZES: Plus, be entered to win 1 of 7 FREE COPIES of my soon-to-be-released new dog training program.”

I’m sure my race of canines, especially the ones whose owners aren’t too embarrassed to enter them in a “worst behavior” contest, could do with some behavior modification. This contest ought to generate very qualified leads, while everyone is having a good bark. That “soon-to-be-released” new dog training program is what Womach is softly selling. Who would want to pass up the idea of improving his best friend?

Womach is always telling us dogs simple stories we can relate to. For example, after explaining to my person how wonderful it is to bond with your dog, he admits that “You’ve probably seen your dog get so hyper that he goes deaf to your commands … You tell him to “sit” or “stay,” but he doesn’t listen … He just goes about his business.”

The story continues, and then there is the part I like best. Because it is about Greeley, a Golden retriever just like me. “But if a small animal races by,” Womach tells us, “Greeley forgets his self-control and goes on a wild chase. Yelling ‘wait, stop!’ had zero effect on him.” He’ll end up in the dog box, for sure.

The owners of the dogs I hang out with fully understand this — and having become sufficiently involved in the narrative, they can’t resist a classic “no obligation, FREE trial offer with a hefty $37.95 monthly open-ended subscription.” If it works for them, I hope this won’t create any substance abuse problems.

marketing thinking about medicament
Credit: TheDogTrainingSecret.com

My person says that, like all good medicament ads, there has to be a big promise. And what could be better than Womach assuring us:

“Today, my friend can take Greeley anywhere and feel at ease around each other. If you’d like your dog to get in touch with his calmer side and develop self-control, Click Here Now.

Sometimes, these messages can be really way OOB (Out-of-Box) but you can’t argue that, however unusual, they are certainly eye-catching.

marketing thinking about 'Playing God'
Credit: TheDogTrainingSecret.com

I’ve often mused about the idea of playing God, and it sounds like fun. Womach must have thought so, too. Because, in addition to the video, he goes on and on and on like a possessed preacher promising Dog Heaven on Earth — and winding up, after very long copy, with a very personal promise:

And even though you’re getting a total package valued at $194 for just $37 … I’m still willing to let you have it all RISK FREE for the next 60 days, with my generous 100% money back guarantee.

marketing thinking about a free trial
Credit: TheDogTrainingSecret.com

I’m confident that “Socialization Secret” is going to make a significant difference in your dog’s life, transforming him into a happier, more relaxed, more confident companion in as little as 2 weeks.

Actually, while I know that my person really admires this imaginative promotional magic and he says he learns a lot from how Womach finds new ways to use tested DM methods, I have to admit that I find it all a bit too complicated and long-winded. But perhaps that’s because, at heart, I treasure what’s disparagingly called “a dog’s life” — playing with my toys, sleeping, eating, and being adored.

Please get your dog out of the dog box. Ask him/her what he/she thinks about all of this, and let me know. Barking preferred.

How Tech-Savvy Kids Are Wrecking the Effectiveness of Google Ad Campaigns

Are your Google ad campaigns being wasted on kids accidentally clicking ads on their mobile phones? If you’re targeting Google’s Display network, then there’s a good chance you’re wasting a lot of your ad budget. Learn how to put an end to this today.

If you were a kid during the ’80s or the early part of the ’90s, you likely didn’t realize that you were the last of your kind. Every generation of kids going forward will, outside of an apocalyptic event, never know a world not driven by technology. When creating your Google ad campaigns, think about how often you see kids as young as five or six absorbed in playing games or watching videos on a mobile device.

What does any of this have to do with your meticulously crafted Google Ads? If they end up running on the same apps on which those kids spend a lot of their time, plenty.

How Mobile Apps Throw Off Your Numbers

The Display Network provides the capability of allowing your ad to reach 93% of online users. That includes websites, videos, and apps. The potential created can be limitless, but so can the damage that can be wrought by your ad’s inclusion in a mobile application.

It makes sense for marketers to have their ads seen on websites relevant to their product, and that is where Google Ads can be of real benefit. The problem comes in when those same ads appear in the latest version of a child’s favorite mobile game.

The Fat Finger Problem

Think about your actions when playing a game on your phone or some other mobile device. The only ads you will click on are those appealing to your interests, and you likely close the rest. Sometimes your finger placement is wrong, and you end up accidentally clicking through an ad.

Those accidental clicks go up exponentially when children close out ads. All those accidental clicks fool you into thinking you are getting lots of interest in your product, thanks to strategic ad placement. That makes it hard to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns and figure out where you may want to make changes.

How to Avoid Miscounting Random Clicks From Mobile Apps

The following steps outline how you can examine your campaigns and see where your ads are placed.

  1. Select a specific ad campaign from your Google Ads dashboard.
  2. Click “Placements” from the left navigation sidebar.
  3. Click “Where Ads Showed” from the top navigation.

You should see a listing of previous ad placements for that campaign. Enter “mobile” into the search box to narrow the results down to mobile apps.

Excluding Mobile Apps

The Google Ads platform gives you the ability to opt out of having your ads displayed within mobile applications. You can do this by:

  • Clicking the checkbox to the left of the placement, then
  • Clicking “Edit” and
  • Selecting “Exclude from ad group” or “Exclude from campaign.”
  • Next, click “Exclusions” from the top navigation to view all the placements you’re excluded from.
  • Click the blue edit button to add more to campaigns or ad groups.

A Matter of Money

Business owners can benefit the most from completely excluding their ads from all mobile applications. The extraneous clicks could end up costing them quite a bit, as they will not result in the desired conversion.

They can do this by adding “App categories > All Apps” to the Exclusions list within your Display network campaigns.

Pulling It All Together

Not all clicks lead to the promise of a conversion, especially unintentional ones done by kids on mobile apps. You can review your ad placements in the Google Ads platform by clicking on the “Placements” button in the left navigation sidebar.  This will show you the placements you’re targeting.  Click “Where Ads Showed” to see where else your ads were displayed and determine if you need to exclude any of those additional placements.

Most businesses should exclude “All Apps” to save yourself a lot of headaches and reporting issues.

Want more tips to improve your Google Ads campaigns? Get your free copy of our “Ultimate Google AdWords Checklist.”

 

Conversions Are More Important Than Traffic With Google Ads and 3 Steps to Up Them

What’s the difference between successful (profitable) and unsuccessful (unprofitable) Google Ads advertisers? Successful advertisers focus more on conversions than traffic.

conversionsAnybody can spend money on Google Ads. But only a small percentage of advertisers earn a healthy profit from their investments in advertising. So, what’s the difference between successful (profitable) and unsuccessful (unprofitable) advertisers?

Unsuccessful advertisers focus on traffic. Successful advertisers focus on conversion. They understand that conversion is what really makes or breaks an advertising campaign.

In this context, we can define conversion as the ability to turn website visitors into customers. If you can convert on traffic at higher rates than your competitors, you’ll not only profit more, but you’ll be able to expand your reach and gain more market share.

Of course, traffic and conversion go hand-in-hand. You need traffic in order to get more conversions and customers. But in the scheme of things, conversion is way more important than traffic. Conversion is where all the leverage is. And to succeed with advertising, you must prioritize conversion over traffic.

You may be wondering, “Why is a conversion more important than traffic?” The answer is that your conversion rate places a limit on your traffic. For example…

  • If you have really low conversions … Only a tiny percentage of website visitors are converting into customers, and that means you’re probably losing money on your advertising, and you’ll have to stop or you’ll go broke.
  • If you have mediocre conversions …. Only a small percentage of your website visitors are converting into customers, and then you’ll have to “retreat” and find places where you can still earn a profit. Your traffic potential is very limited.
  • But if you have really strong conversions … You’re converting more website visitors into customers, compared with your competition. As a result, you’ll have the money to expand your advertising. Essentially, high conversion rates provide the funding to buy traffic.

Here’s the process you should take to create and fine-tune a high-converting advertising campaign:

Step 1: Always Run the Numbers Before You Run Ads

Never pull the trigger on an ad campaign before you run the numbers. You need to know how much you can really afford to get a click, generate a lead and acquire a new customer. Do some “back of the envelope” calculations to see what kind of conversion rates you’d need to have for your advertising to be profitable.

Step 2. Put Your Best Foot Forward

Once you run the numbers, you’ll probably need to make some improvements to your conversion systems in order to make the numbers work in your favor. You’ll want to create a high-converting landing page. You also may need to adjust your offer and pricing, improve your sales/closing process, put upsells in place and create a follow-up sequence.

The important thing is to do this before you buy traffic, so you’ll have confidence you can actually make money from your ads. Always avoid advertising into a “leaky” funnel, because that’s just asking to lose money.

Step 3. Never Stop Testing

Once you’ve got your ads live, that’s really just the beginning.

Now you need to track, tweak and test in order to get your campaign to be profitable. And once your ads are profitable, you should not “set it and forget it.” Instead, you should be continually tracking, tweaking and testing your marketing funnel. This is where advertising gets really fun, because with every conversion improvement you make, you’re giving yourself a raise. Plus, you’re widening the gap between you and your competition, making it harder and harder for anybody to catch up and compete with you.

Want more tips to improve your Google advertising? Get your free copy of our Ultimate Google AdWords Checklist.

 

Denny Hatch Takes on a Direct Brand With Direct Marketing

Harry’s is what’s now classified as a direct brand. But is traditional direct marketing more powerful? Politically correct or not, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” reminds us that the piece we write today may be chuck full of insight and wisdom now, but demands a fresh new look only a few milestones down the road.

Harry’s is what’s now classified as a direct brand. But is traditional direct marketing more powerful? Politically correct or not, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” reminds us that the piece we write today may be chuck full of insight and wisdom now, but demands a fresh new look only a few milestones down the road.

Denny Hatch’s name should not be an unfamiliar one here. Former Target Marketing editor, blogger and general gadfly, Hatch retains the mantle of data-driven marketing’s provocateur, par excellence, now sadly deprived of his joy at being able to limit his writings to twice the number of characters of the original Twitter. His new marketing blog is full of good stuff.

For his recent 700-character, “Getting Your Prospects to Say ‘Yes’ ” piece, he has turned his sights on Harry’s, the upstart direct-to-consumer razor company featured in this Maverick space almost a year ago. At that time I asked you, our readers:

Will the powerful copy and offer, the Harry’s against Goliath approach, go viral or sufficiently viral to extend the reach of the promotion well beyond the media that has been paid for? Will it bring the cost of trials and conversions down low enough to be “affordable,” attracting customers whose loyalty generates sufficient lifetime value to amortize the total marketing costs over that lifetime and let Harry’s end up with more than a sustainable profit?

direct brand Harry's
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Although headlined, “Make Your Bet on Harry’s or Goliath,” readers were only asked whether they believed that the soft, brand-focused approach would be enough to build a loyal and profitable client base. This direct brand ad and similar treatments break all of the DM101 rules and, because they keep appearing, either they are driving a satisfactory response or, sooner or later, the remains of Harry will be marketing history.

The Denny Hatch traditional direct marketing answer to the “will you bet your money on Harry?” question is a snarling “no.” And he is willing to put his “cheek” (so to speak) where his money is, by offering Harry’s a Denny original, an ad designed to test the “on your face” Free Trial offer against the company’s editorial lede with the same Free Trial offer.

Hatch’s proposed direct marketing ad, seen here, is a classic old school mail-order: “FREE,” “GUARANTEED,” “No Cost,” “No Risk,” “No Obligation.” The call to action couldn’t be improved: “CLICK HERE FOR NO-RISK FREE TRIAL.” And the copy appears to be signed-off by a real person. It’s got everything.

direct brand vs. direct marketing ad
Credit: Denny Hatch’s Marketing Blog by Denny Hatch

But is “everything” what moves today’s consumer, or is the intriguing narrative about changing a $13 billion industry better attuned to today’s sensibilities? Problem is: Will we ever know the results? At this writing, Harry’s soft-focus direct brand ads are everywhere I seem to go on the web.

If Harry’s would run a valid split test of Hatch’s direct marketing ad against one of its regular ads, we would know which one had the better clickthrough. And if we waited long enough, we would know which would have the better lifetime value. (A parenthetical aside: The trouble with measuring lifetime value is that, theoretically, you have to wait until everyone is dead. That’s likely to be longer than you care to wait.) Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some data in this case and share it with you sometime in the future.

When there is more to come, journalists advise you to “watch this space”!

Almost the Ultimate in ‘Not Interested’ Segmentation

If data is the fuel that is powering today’s marketing engine, Google has discovered a real gusher. Google, or any other AI-aided advertising sales effort, can add these datasets to already copious databases and use them as the almost ultimate tool to segment advertising messages to people most likely to be interested in them and to avoid sending ads in specific categories to those people who have signaled they are “not interested.”

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.

Peter J. Rosenwald illustration one
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

That “i” with a circle around it and the accompanying “X” may have been there before, but I must never have noticed. They certainly didn’t leap off the page at me (that’s why I added the arrow) and would have had a hard time competing for attention with those cool 3D T-shirts.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

But there they were, hiding in the upper right hand corner of lots of ads, placed every five paragraphs or so by those lovable folks at Google, certainly intended to interrupt my reading of every salacious breaking news story about the White House and porn star Stormy Daniels (upright in real life, Ms. Stephanie Clifford).

Seduced away from learning the latest secrets of how to earn $130,000 for allegedly having a soft porn one-nighter with a presidential candidate who, between rallies imploring the U.S. electorate to make America great again, found time for a little R & R, I became intrigued by those mysterious letters and moved my cursor to discover what they were telling me.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

OK as far as it went, but by now in a state of aroused curiosity about the encircled “i” and accompanying “X,” I wanted to know more. Click on the encircled “i” and it takes you to AdSense, a website providing everything you ever wanted to know but perhaps never thought to ask, about Google’s targeted advertising and data protection policies.

Click on the “X” and here is what you get.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Google has now neatly positioned me to click on “Stop seeing this ad” or “Ads by Google,” un-highlighted and again accompanied by the encircled “i.” Addicted as I am to Sherlock Holmes, I felt compelled to move ahead and to click the “Stop” button.

But before I did, I began wondering; what’s in this for Google other than having delivered a possibly unwanted ad, then creating a nice warm “feel good” atmosphere. It’s rather like the guest who tracks mud into your living room, and then apologizes and promises to try not to do it again.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Now I get it.

It’s a brilliantly laid back survey generating invaluable data about;

  • Those “Not interested in this ad,” those on whom promotion money for this category should not be wasted.

The first time I clicked on “Not interested,” I was taken to a section of the site which showed me a wide range of interest categories and asked me to eliminate those for which I had no interest. As I’d indicate one, it would go away and another one would pop up in what became an endless five-minute project. Wanting to show it here, I tried again to find it, but Google had obviously gotten what it wanted from me and it mysteriously disappeared.

  • Those who didn’t have anything against the specific category but had seen it “multiple” times (too many), that number informing Google to limit the ad frequency for this person;
  • Those who consider the ad “inappropriate,” a clear signal to Google to send only “Jello’” ads here; no “Tamale flavored hot, spicy yogurt.”
  • When I clicked on “Ad-covered content,” I received a message that the ad had been ‘closed’ by Google, nothing else that might have explained what “Ad-covered content” might have meant.

If data is the fuel that is powering today’s marketing engine, Google has discovered a real gusher. Google, or any other AI-aided advertising sales effort, can add these datasets to already copious databases and use them as the almost ultimate tool to segment advertising messages to people most likely to be interested in them and to avoid sending ads in specific categories to those people who have signaled they are “not interested.”

It’s a win, win. For Google, because it should be a very sexy addition to its advertising sales platform. For advertisers, who must applaud a new ability not to spend the marketing budget talking to people who do not wish to hear their message.

The Sustainability of Consumer Trust

I refuse to jump on the privacy “scandal” bandwagon. It is rough listening in this week to certain lawmakers fail to recognize the absolute benefits accrued by consumers through the responsible collection and use of data for commerce, advertising and innovation. Yes, data handling requires stewardship — but that doesn’t mean “data” in and of itself — constitutes anything close to being a harm that needs to be regulate.

I refuse to jump on the privacy “scandal” bandwagon.

It is rough listening in this week to certain lawmakers fail to recognize the absolute benefits accrued by consumers through the responsible collection and use of data for commerce, advertising and innovation. Yes, data handling requires stewardship — but that doesn’t mean “data” in and of itself — constitutes anything close to being a harm that needs to be regulated, as if there were no rules already in place.

Whether or not I, as a voter, saw Russian-administered content online, in an alleged bid to stir up controversy and division among the American electorate, is an understandable concern. It should be investigated — because we need to isolate and diminish any and all “malicious” actors in our digital economy and democracy. Fraud, too, is a harm that must be isolated, identified and eradicated. You’ll have no debate from me here.

But let’s not conflate malicious actors with bona fide relevant advertising and content being presented to, and engaged by, consumers — a wholly beneficial outcome that public policy must acknowledge. Data, commerce and advertising are not dirty words — they are engines for job growth, innovation and — yes, even government revenue through taxes. Ads finance content freely available and useful to consumers and other businesses — and pay for journalism, too, and a diversity of content on the Net.

But all of this responsible data collection and use are useless if there is no consumer trust.

I argue that the U.S. approach to data regulation — legal restriction where sensitive personal information is collected, transferred and applied through sector-specific laws concerning health data, certain government IDs, personal finance, children’s data and credit — and where Fair Information Principles are applied for other data categories that do not have such propensity for harm. Consumers are extremely well-served by this regimen. It is far more harmful to have a breach of credit data, for example, than to have business entities share consumers’ advertising profiles in non-sensitive categories — the latter data use being wholly beneficial. U.S. data protections thus are wisely targeted and measured.

Ads pay the freight — and the economy grows as a direct result. Better for an ad to be relevant to an audience. I believe this is superior (at least for Americans) than other highly prescriptive regimes (read, Europe) that make little distinctions between data categories and require “opt-in” permissions for any and all types of data sharing, including that related to advertising and marketing. If consumers are inundated with opt-in requests for less sensitive types of data use, even for categories of use where they directly benefit, then inertia and fatigue will prevail and useful data flows won’t happen. I’m hoping businesses handling European citizen data will find ways to prove me wrong!

Is the motivation of such draconian restrictions in Europe really privacy protection as a fundamental human right? Or is it somehow questioning commerce, competition, diversity, trade and innovation, and other important social aims financed by advertising — all sacrificed on the altar of permission? Yes, consumer control should be a default with ad data — but affirmative consent should be reserved for data categories where the propensity for harm is real. This point of view, in Europe at least, is rhetorical — because the law is the law. And as of May 25, the General Data Protection Regulation is enforceable on all global entities touching EU citizen data. God Save the Queen and her data subjects, and perhaps all of us.

At a recent privacy conference, one of the primary architects of the European Union’s ePrivacy Regulation (a follow-up to GDPR) said, “What we are aiming at is to abolish surveillance-driven advertising.”

Surveillance-driven” advertising and “surveillance capitalism” — are Europe- and privacy-academic speak that seeks to link or conflate interest-based advertising with government surveillance of citizens. I mean, really? Ad tech may include companies not known to the consumer, and because brands enlist outside ad tech companies to help them make advertising inventory more relevant (and useful) to site and app users, and disclose such data sharing through enhanced notice mechanisms and privacy policies, somehow this still constitutes “surveillance” with all of its negative connotations. Let’s not forget that the intended result of these investments in consumer engagement is a more relevant ad, not a dossier!

We can see where some (important) heads may be motivated.

Back to the U.S.

Even something as innocuous as an ad served to a device — we have plenty of guidance for privacy rules of the road: Fair Information Practice Principles that are global, Data & Marketing Association Data Standards 2.0, Digital Advertising Alliance Principles and the YourAdChoices program (a client), IAB technical standards … and an active Federal Trade Commission (and other agencies, in certain data categories) overseeing the ecosystem, and enforcing privacy expectations — is both self-regulatory and legal.

The idea that the United States is a laissez-faire data free-for-all is pointedly not a correct assessment. In the digital world, we have 20-plus years of self-regulation, based on nearly 60 years of self-regulation offline. All of this premised on building and bolstering consumer trust. We have federal and state law in important data sectors. Through all of these decades, we’ve had an FTC minding the advertising/marketing store, growing the market, and — enforcing privacy and security of data through meaningful enforcement actions and consent decrees that serve as teaching tools to other businesses.

Instead of grandstanding and undermining years of hard-earned consumer trust, more policymakers — and perhaps industry leaders, too — should recognize how responsible data flows serve the consumer. Thus, they should back existing industry regimes that promote stewardship and governance — and hold us to it. Serving consumers, earning their trust, after all, is a shared goal by all responsible stakeholders.

Europe’s Forthcoming Data ‘Freeze’ and Why We Need to Care

European policymakers are transfixed with setting personal information controls on the private sector, and — beginning May 2018 — will give its citizens “default” power to shut down all such data usage for advertising purposes unless consumers provide affirmative consent. It’s called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its companion ePrivacy Regulation.

Paris
Eiffel Tower” | Credit: TOUREFFEL.PARIS THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE EIFFEL TOWER by Eiffel Tower

There was a modicum of good news recently when the U.S. Department of Commerce’s “Privacy Shield” program was given a passing grade by the European Union, enabling private-sector cross-border data flows on European citizens between the U.S. and Europe. Thousands of U.S. companies participate in Privacy Shield. They rely on the program to help collect, process and transfer responsibly information for more relevant advertising, human resources, and other commercial and operational purposes. (It applies to charities, too.)

European policymakers are transfixed with setting personal information controls on the private sector, and — beginning May 2018 — will give its citizens “default” power to shut down all such data usage for advertising purposes unless consumers provide affirmative consent. It’s called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its companion ePrivacy Regulation.

In the U.S., much digital information about consumer devices and browsers — such as their browsing history and app usage — is painstakingly “anonymized” by companies according to industry-wide self-regulatory codes. [Disclosure: One of my clients is the Digital Advertising Alliance.] Sweat equity through independent accountability programs safeguard such data from being used without proper consumer notice (transparency) and opportunity to exercise control through an easy-to-find, easy-to-use “opt-out.” However, in Europe, any digital information that “could” be used to re-identify an individual — even if anonymized from a U.S. perspective, such as an IP address — is considered personal by definition. Affirmative consent — most likely an “opt-in” though “consent” details are yet to be articulated — will hold sway. Common U.S. notice-and-opt-out regimens won’t suffice.

Imagine all the responsible data flows — even those clearly beneficial to consumers and the global economy — that will simply stop May 25, 2018, in Europe because of a hugely stricter consent mandate. American companies can only watch and wait to see who may be called out by EU data protection authorities, eager to fine a company up to 4 percent of its global returns, as provided for in the law.

Good policy? Or good politics. In reality, EU lawmakers are asking its citizens to pay a huge price. And that’s not my opinion as an American — it’s a fact in a Europe-born study. Look at what’s at stake:

  • €535 billion of the European Union economy benefits directly and indirectly from digital advertising;
  • 66 percent of digital ad spend depends on data, and 90 percent of digital advertising growth depends on data;
  • Ad units tied to data are 300 percent more valuable than standard run-of-network ads (because they are more effective)

That’s part of the economic argument. But there are social and political ramifications, too.

  • Much like U.S. consumers, Europeans prefer data-supported ads to paying for content — eight in 10 report such a preference;
  • Fully 68 percent say they would never pay for online content or use services such as email if they had to pay for it;
  • And 92 percent would stop using their favorite site or app if they had to pay for it;
  • Even 42 percent are “happy”: to see data used to deliver personalized ads.

European businesses, agencies and publishers have gone so far as to press policymakers that their respective countries’ own democratic and economic health is at stake — inherent in the power of data used in advertising:

  • Up to 50 percent of advertising growth will simply disappear if data cannot be used to make more relevant ads;
  • 70 percent of European citizens would abandon the Internet for news if they had to pay to replace the news content financed by digital advertising;
  • Internet usage would crash by 88 percent if EU citizens were forced to pay for online content and services;
  • And what of competition, diversity of content and innovation? The impact on small, independent publishers would be five times more pronounced than the impact on large media companies.

Yes, American companies are in the cross-hairs once GDPR and ePrivacy take some combination of enforcement effect next May — perhaps bad policy for seemingly good politics. Yet Europeans themselves are challenging such an objective — overreaching data controls punish consumers, employers and even democracies.

That’s a mindful lesson for all of us.