Can the adtech industry really put consumers at the center of their models?

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck March 3, 2020
Opting in for a drill down on the consumer-centricity of adtech platforms.

opt in

Forced opt-in is not consent.

That's what Evan Rutchik, Chief Revenue Officer at Ogury, said to me when we started our conversation on how the adtech market needs to evolve. He believes you have to give consumers control, put them first.

Privacy regulations, ad blockers, and the end of cookies are the tipping point, but putting consumers first requires a new way of thinking, and there are a few challenges to overcome.

There's consent, and then there's consent

How many times have you had to check a box to get something, only to unsubscribe or look for an opt-out button after you got it because you didn't want any other communications from that brand, or you didn't want them saving and sharing your information? Rutchik said that many brands and publishers force you to opt-in, so you don't have a choice but to share your data. And they consider that consent.

Because the harsh reality is simple - content isn't free. You have to give something to get something. Usually, that's your data. And if you are in the 63% that expect a personalized experience (a number I've seen higher in other studies), then you have to give brands the information they need to do personalization.

The reason consumers balk at sharing their information is lack of trust. They don't know what a brand is doing with that data. Most brands have a long way to go to provide the level of personalized experiences most consumers expect. If that's the case, then why are they collecting all that data, what exactly are they collecting and who are they sharing it with?

Rutchik said that we are entering the era of digital integrity and the notion of transparent communication with the consumer of what's happening with their data. What if you asked a consumer for their consent, and you were clear not only about what you planned to do with their information, but you gave them control over it? Rutchik advised: 

Content isn't free. It's time that consumers really understood that and so they need to understand the value exchange. And it's on companies like us and others like us, to educate, and to take a stance and really promote data safety and maintain integrity when it relates to consent and transparency and traceability of that consumer consent.

The challenges to overcome in the ad industry

In the Ogury whitepaper, Advertising Driven by User Choice (registration required), three key challenges plague the advertising industry:

  1. Untraceable and untrusted user consent. Most of the ads consumers are shown come from the consumer's implicit consent. The ad technology is not asking for consent and most of the data vendors used by adtech also do not collect consent directly. While at some point, consent may have been given to collect the data, it's virtually impossible to know where it came from.
  2. Unreliable and risky data. You trust the data you collect on your website and in your mobile apps because you know how it's collected and stored. Beyond that, if you want to get a wider view of the consumer to create a more personalized or contextual experience, you probably need to have more data. Most brands don't fully trust third-party data, though, suggesting it is unreliable, incomplete, and often based on broad segments.
  3. Complex and opaque ecosystem. Global ad fraud is predicted to cost $32 billion by 2022. Many brands don't know where their ads are displayed, and there is a wide distrust that the budgets they are spending on ads are used appropriately.

Can these challenges be overcome by giving consumers control? By letting them choose what data they want to share and how?

The evolution of consent management platforms

There are many consent management platforms available that can help brands ask for and manage a customer's data. Ogury provides consent management as part of its mobile data management solution. But we aren't at the place where one solution manages consent for mobile and desktop and uses that consent to deliver personalized ads. Nor do most solutions give consumers full control over that consent after it's given.

While only for mobile, Ogury's advertising engine is an interesting example of how you can give the user control over their experience. One of its features is that a user can choose to share data, view ads, or pay for content. Rutchik said that over 50% of its user base opt-in to share their data because they are in full control of how that data is used.

He told me that in Q4 of last year, they had a few proposal opportunities from clients that wanted to test out a consented data source for some branded campaigns with the idea of supporting the new CCPA regulations. Ogury's approach to consent and customer-first advertising has also led some advertisers to reach out to them for thought leadership.

With thousands of adtech vendors, and dozens of consent management solutions, customer data platforms, and data management platforms, the challenge will be getting everyone to agree that giving the consumer full control is the right path to take. Then they need to figure out how to make that happen in a way that works across channels and adtech vendors, publishers, and so on.

The possibility of it happening even on one channel, like mobile, isn't going to happen overnight. Ogury has relationships with 1500 brands, 3500 plus publishers and over 400 million users on mobile. It's a good start, but there's still a long way for it to go, and it should include broadening its platform to the desktop and other channels.

My take

Maybe GDPR started it; maybe CCPA pushed it further along, and other privacy regulations will push it even further. But the question remains - can brands and the adtech industry give consumers ultimate control and survive? Is there even a choice?