The 7 rules of respectful marketing
As more people implement ad blockers and brand safety takes on new urgency, columnist Lewis Gersh discusses how brands can put the customer experience front and center.
Consumers are in open rebellion about how they’re disrespectfully treated by your marketing. Millions now use ad blockers to escape the relentless barrage of online ads, resulting in 32 percent of global page views being impacted by ad blocking. And the rest don’t need an ad blocker because they’re conditioned to ignore the ad. Virtually all email users take advantage of spam protection software and mention receiving too many emails as the top reason for unsubscribing.
This is why it is absolutely imperative for brands to invest in respectful and relevant marketing. They must realize their customer experiences begin with their marketing, and that the customer has a reasonable expectation of respect. This is a two-way street, and you do harm to your own brand by plowing ahead with blinders on.
With this in mind, a brand should:
1. Be vigilant about where your partners (and their partners’ partners) get their data
When buying data for ad targeting and retargeting purposes, vet individual partners and use only those that are a validated, safe, primary data source. But even then, how do you know where that partner is getting their data? They could (unknowingly) be relying on a whole basket of providers from across the ethical spectrum.
Be thorough as you investigate, and only work with partners who use reliable, trustworthy data. They’re out there, and they generally have names you recognize.
2. Boycott data gathered from ambient listening and other unethical techniques
Ambient listening and scraping peoples’ text messages and emails are highly unethical and odious practices, and you want to stay far away from it. Add it to your contracts with data providers to ensure they will not knowingly give you data obtained unethically. Add a damage clause to it, and if they push back, run.
3. Favor publishers with good practices
Marketers should channel their dollars to publishers who prioritize quality content and a good user experience, especially ones that balance viewability guarantees without sacrificing UX.
Marketers should do business with publishers that have strong, plain-language privacy policies, and go publisher direct via private marketplaces where appropriate to reduce ad fraud.
4. Consider taking your programmatic in-house
Many major brands are setting up in-house programmatic efforts to reduce costs, gain transparency into what they’re buying and keep control of their first-party data. It’s a significant investment of time, money and resources — so at the very least, getting more involved in optimizations at the keyboard is worth the effort.
5. Fight ad fraud and deliver ‘healthy impressions’
A “healthy impression” is one that’s presented respectfully, at the proper time, in the proper context and situation. Fraudulent ads aren’t healthy, because they have no chance to influence a consumer. Capping the frequency of retargeting impressions and suppressing retargeting after the consumer has made a purchase are also respectful and healthy practices.
Marketers would be well served by a constant reminder that they are consumers as well. Whatever your personal threshold is, multiply that by 10 for the average consumer not enamored of (or employed by) marketing.
6. Consider regulation with teeth
Take an active, transparent and public stance. The industry should insist on effective regulation with criminal penalties to prevent some of the more egregious digital marketing abuses. CAN-SPAM was mostly ineffective to deter spam. It wasn’t until the free market created spam filters that spam got under control.
7. Consider brand safety precautions
The recent furor over digital ads appearing in, or adjacent to, objectionable and low-quality content has raised questions about current (and expensive) automated brand safety services that don’t work well enough. Demand to see where your ads run in real time, not after the campaign has ended. Put the time into your whitelists and blacklists, as others are doing.
While it’s true that the above practices are expensive and difficult, the respect you give and results you get will be well worth it. Why invest in display advertising that’s more likely to hurt your brand and waste your budget? Doesn’t it make sense to pay more, in an effort to finance a well-targeted and well-received campaign?
Digital advertising has fallen into an unhealthy pattern. Each new technique introduced enjoys high ROI for a while. Marketers overuse the technique, then it gets abused. Consumers, feeling harassed and disrespected, rebel and stop responding. Efficacy falls. Marketers, desperate for results, focus on efficiency to do more with less. This exacerbates the situation and worsens the abuse of the consumer.
It’s up to marketers to restore good health to the medium. Instead of trying to do more with less, focus on doing better. Put customer experience ahead of marketing ROI for a moment — just for a moment! — and you’ll start seeing fewer ad-blocking customers and better results in the long run.