How we can restore trust in digital advertising

The CEO of French "drive to store" marketing platform Teemo talks about how transparency can thread the digital needle between irrelevant and creepy.

Chat with MarTechBot
Benoit Grouchko is CEO and co-founder of Teemo.

Teemo is a France-based location intelligence provider (“drive-to-store” marketing platform) that serves the retail, fast-food, automotive and grocery industries. The company worked closely with the French privacy regulator (CNIL) to develop specific consent language around third-party use of location data and saw 70% consumer opt-in rates.

Benoit Grouchko is CEO and co-founder. I spoke to him recently about data and consumer privacy and his expectations for how CCPA will impact marketers.

ML: Google proposed an industry-wide initiative to try and preserve behavioral targeting in the U.S. while giving consumers more control over that data. Are you hopeful about this effort?

BG: Google owns such a large piece of the digital advertising pie that one can only be hopeful. Do they have the leverage to manipulate this to their benefit? Sure, but their efforts can also do a lot of good on a macro level. 

It’s a good sign and indicates that Google is seeking to be ahead of the regulation curve by setting the precedent on privacy. What’s interesting is that a lot of the best practices this blog proposes are already in place in France and the rest of Europe. There’s a lot the US can learn from GDPR.

ML: Many surveys suggest that consumers increasingly distrust big internet companies, brands and digital advertising generally. Can trust in digital marketing be restored?

BG: I am an optimist so, yes, I think trust can – and will – be restored. We sometimes forget that digital advertising is a relatively new industry. And every industry goes through a “correction” or “adjustment” of some kind at some point in its history. We’ve been building up to this for a while now; the Facebook debacle and the institution of GDPR are the two straws that broke the camel’s back. 

I think it’s a matter of time until things settle. I can’t say it will be soon, but regulation will normalize over time and companies will fall into place. 

What we can do individually – as people and companies – is to do what’s right for our customers and to organize. We need to stop thinking of short-term gains and think about the ecosystem as a whole. As you rightly pointed out, we all stand to lose here. 

Often consumers conflate mistrust with misunderstanding. Better transparency will help people see that the “creepy types of targeting” they mistrust is not quite as threatening as they perceive.

Advertisers are good at their jobs, and even better when they use data. Being embedded in the ad industry, I have the perspective that good advertising helps inform me about products or opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise know. As digital literacy and transparency increase, so will trust.

ML: We spoke about finding a middle point between irrelevant and creepy. In a post-GDPR, CCPA world how does all that happen on a mechanical level? 

BG: The middle ground between irrelevant and creepy is an ad experience that optimizes performance for the advertiser and is great for the consumer. Two things need to happen to find that middle ground: first, advertisers need to get better at understanding performance. Even if an ad is hyper-relevant, if a consumer perceives it as creepy, it will decrease performance and deteriorate brand sentiment. Advertisers need to look at performance over everything. The “creep” factor will play into performance and help advertisers determine what types and depth of targeting to use.

The second thing that needs to happen is on the consumer level. Consumers need to become more digitally literate. Any data that digital marketers ethically use will be anonymized. Most consumers probably don’t understand that. It goes both ways, though. Many consumers don’t know which apps are tracking them and when. Great transparency and knowledge will help us reach a middle ground.

Regulations will certainly help put some boundaries there and make sure nothing creepy happens. However, there is a deeper question here around what is actually creepy or not, as that might vary from one consumer to another.

ML: My understanding that most Europeans aren’t doing much in the way of managing cookie settings; they’re making binary choices (decline/accept). Is this accurate? 

BG: I think European consumers are confused about how cookies function. I also think many are wary of the concept. And they should be.

Many companies use “tricks” to drive consumers to give consent. Some play with screen placement and colors; others offer only a single choice, which is consent. 

From my personal point of view, I think these choices relate back to digital literacy. More digitally literate people will make more complex choices and set their permissions at the top level. Most people are probably making binary choices, but as digital literacy increases, people will begin to change their attitudes. Pop-ups were once the bane of any Internet user’s existence. Now users have to deal with privacy, notification and tracking pop-ups. I doubt this will continue forever.

ML: Regarding CCPA, what is put in front of consumers when they visit a website will matter. If choices are complicated they’ll likely “accept” to get to the desired content and there won’t be much impact. Do you agree? 

BG: I couldn’t agree more. And it’s these manipulative/deceptive practices I stated above that are counterproductive to the cause. 

No one reads the entire terms and conditions. People use the Internet to increase speed and efficiency. Like I said, even the opt-in or opt-out choices may fade away at some point.

ML: In the U.S. “ad choices” — the industry’s prior attempt to deliver user control and choice re behavioral targeting — is a total failure.  Why would any of the newer “choice” initiatives (or CCPA) be any different?

BG: Something’s got to give in terms of privacy and transparency in the US. I hope that CCPA will learn from GDPR and how consumers reacted. While the first set of regulations may create an undue burden, the landscape will reach equilibrium, and everything should go back to “normal” at some point.

ML: How does Safari and ITP, which is a different approach to these same problems, affect the market? Many marketers see cookie blocking as a blunt instrument and very heavy-handed. How do you see what Apple is doing? 

BG: Apple has always taken a hard line on security – and it’s served them well. If there were more companies like Apple, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with. The greedy argument is that digital advertising would not have reached such heights but, as I said, this is a long-term game. 

The problem I see now is that everyone has gotten a taste of the profits and set the bar quite high, making it difficult for any one vendor to take such a hard line without losing a ton of business. Not an easy problem to solve.

While a hard line on security has served Apple well, consumer reaction always has a lot of influence on regulation. Apple has always been able to simplify the digital experience for consumers. But I still think this first round of guidelines will be a learning experience, especially as other big players in tech respond.

ML: Whose job is it to educate consumers to make them more digitally literate? 

BG: I think, ultimately, it’s up to us in the industry to not only do what’s right in terms of respecting privacy but also to educate consumers on best practices. I feel that regulation is meaningless to consumers if they don’t understand the nature of the transactions in which they engage, how the technologies work, and the associated costs, benefits, trade-offs. 

Informed consumers are in the end the future of our businesses, which are built on trust. It’s in our best interest to do right by then to gain/regain this trust so we can build loyalty.

Regulators, advertisers, companies, and web providers all have an obligation to be transparent about the digital landscape and what it means for consumer privacy. But, if the burden falls to these entities it creates a greater layer of complexity than necessary. It begs the question: how much should regulators, advertisers, etc. inform consumers?

There certainly should be some level of transparency, but privacy practices that, for example, initiate pop-up requests for permission to run every nominal background task may end up annoying or confusing consumers more than they help them. The landscape will eventually reach equilibrium. Ultimately, in any society with freedom of information, it’s up to consumers themselves (along with news organizations, journalists, and watchdogs) to become digitally literate.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

Fuel for your marketing strategy.