Transparency is all the rage these days, especially considering the means for disseminating messages has done a 180-degree turn. Rather than broadcast one to many, messages are being narrow-casted to a highly targeted few.
The advertising industry is being put in a position of accountability by the new kids in charge, aka, we the people.
Consumers, customers, or whatever you'd like to call the people who buy stuff seek something more from advertisers than mindless chatter. They want content and truth. Although they don't probably know the word for it yet, they want transparency.
I had the privilege of interviewing Russell Glass, the founder and CEO of Bizo, a B2B online ad network that is taking a decidedly singular stance when it comes to online banner advertising.
First, they're strictly business-to-business. Second, Glass believes some sort of regulation should exist for online advertisers, whether it comes from the government or in the form of industry self-regulation.
Third and most important, Glass believe in transparency. It's crucial for online consumers to realize a trade-off occurs between them and the online advertisers that fuels the idea of free online content. Advertising online is the same as TV advertising: Someone has to pay for the shows we watch and the sites we visit.
Glass is a like a prophet, crying out that changes must be made for online banner advertising to be more successful. He supports the notion that online consumers need to know why they're being served the ads they see. This is due to behavioral targeting or ads steered toward specific numbers of people based on their geographic, demographic (age, household income, etc), psychographic (personality, values, attitudes, interests, etc), and Web-surfing habits.
One of the best examples of how behavioral targeting works is Facebook. Think for a minute about the ads you see on your profile page or your friend's profile pages. They're relative to you, your lifestyle, geographic area, and interests.
How does Facebook do this? It's a trade-off: The more you use Facebook, the more the online site learns about you. Plus, you've already told them a lot about yourself when completing an online profile.
Therefore, a travel agency can supply Facebook with the task of targeting ads to all users in New York City who are engaged and like to travel. Bridal shops may target a similar group.
What Bizo would like to do is place an icon on banner ads so users can actually click and find out exactly why they're being targeted.Bizo, in fact, will allow you to go to their site and update your own cookie. Because the Bizo network is B2B, the update fields include your industry, company size, state, gender, etc.
Thus, if you are on one of the sites using Bizo, ads will be shown to you based on the criteria you entered. This is exactly what Bizo would like to do with the industry in an effort to drive transparency -- and ultimately trust -- for online purchasers.
During our conversation, Glass also stated he believes it's important for people to have the ability to opt-out from an ad, much like opting out of an e-mail newsletter or online catalog.
I asked Glass if opting out cut down on his client's performance, and he replied while many people may opt-out, the ones who didn't would actually be better sales prospects. He also stated the opt-out rate is only around 10 percent.
I decided I'd play devil's advocate and asked if a client's campaign wouldn't be as effective as possible if said client gets a low click-thru rate (CTR). He answered CTR is a poor method of measuring online-campaign performance, and despite high CTR's being desired by clients, this is not in the best interest of clients.
Many ad networks, he stated, optimize campaigns to the click because they are able to show that the campaign "worked."
He noted, however, the truth is an inverse relationship exists between high CTRs and successful campaigns; therefore, the ad networks optimizing to the click optimize their clients right out of sales.
Furthermore, at Glass' suggestion, I looked up a study conducted by comScore, Starcom, and Tacoda, which found a group of "Natural Born Clickers," who represent just 6 percent of the online population but are responsible for 50 percent of the clicks on banner ads.
The study shows that heavy clickers are not representative of the general public. In fact, heavy clickers skew towards Internet users between the ages of 25-44 and households with an income under $40,000.
Heavy clickers behave differently online than the typical Internet user, and while they spend four times more time online than non-clickers, their spending does not proportionately reflect this heavy Internet usage. Heavy clickers are also relatively more likely to visit auction sites, gambling sites, and career-services sites -- a markedly different surfing pattern than non-clickers.
Basically, Natural Born Clickers aren't the consumers online marketers look to snag.
Glass left me with three key insights before we finished our conversation. First, the online industry has to leave the click behind and determine a better method for measurement, which he said has been an industry goal for years.
Second, many of his interviews and articles leaned toward government regulation because he didn't think that the industry would be able to self-regulate. However, he noted it seemed the online industry is moving towards self-regulation, which he wholeheartedly supports.
Third, transparency is the key for improving online advertising's effectiveness. Allowing consumers to opt-out of ads and actively participate in the ads they're shown will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of online advertising, accurately narrowing the target audience.
After speaking to Glass about Bizo, I think I'd have to agree. Transparency is the key to the kingdom.