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Murky Waters Of Online Advertising

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On the surface, online advertising looks smooth and ripple-free, but when you dig a little deeper you find all sorts of scandals, conspiracy theories and debates about actual value. Recently, there has been a spate of news about which online advertising platform offers the best returns: Google, Facebook or Twitter. This has spurred several other articles, on related topics, such as the limits of online advertising and, an old favourite, the ethics of online advertising.

There’s no advertising moral high ground

Companies, associations and organisations, even state departments, have been selling personal information to marketers for years. It’s not unheard of for new brides to receive telemarketing calls in their married names before they’ve gone to the trouble of changing their accounts, driver’s licences and other official documents. You get one credit card and every bank on the planet pre-approves you for another one. You sign one cell phone contract and all other service providers can’t wait to sell you an upgrade.

That’s what the online world is like. Only people are more het up about it and governments are starting to make serious noise about taking serious action. For example, a recent Reuters article says that the US government wants all websites to have a Do Not Track option, so that consumers can safeguard their personal information. This sort of thing has been on the cards for years, but now it looks like the US might be ready to start walking the online privacy walk.

That is, if it can get all concerned parties to agree on what exactly Do Not Track means. Definitions stretch from the draconian don’t-even-sniff-my-cookies to the lenient we’ll-collect-all-your-info-but-we-promise-not-to-sell-it (unless we stand to make a tonne of money and think we won’t get caught).

If no acceptable definition can be found and the process looks like it’ll just go round in an endless stalemate, the Reuters article says that the government might be forced to enact privacy legislation to protect internet users.

But … all the pretty money

This will be devastating for just about anyone who tries to make money online. If Google can’t use the masses of user information it collects then the small business trying to keep turnover rolling won’t be able to get the most out of Google Ads; PPC advertisers will have to take potluck; and Facebook advertisers will have to rethink their strategies.

The entire multiple billion dollar online advertising industry could very well be brought to its knees.

Or not.

The industry has survived this kind of threat before; perhaps because the threats have been toothless. But this time maybe a few compromises are necessary; maybe it is time for ethics to come to the fore; maybe it’s time to realise that contrary to what Mark Zuckerberg believes, there is such thing as privacy online; maybe it’s time online advertisers rethought their approach and started being a little more creative – and respectful of their target market.

This guest post was written by Sandy Cosser on behalf of SARAD, a South African media and advertising directory. SARAD provides up-to-date information on radio, magazine and online advertising rates and statistics for media buyers and planners.

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