Targeting ads to the right audience is one of the most fundamental tenets of advertising, whether digital or traditional. ‘It’s simple’, the theory goes - ‘if you want to advertise products that sell to bankers, target bankers; if you want to sell toys for pre-school kids, run ads that’ll reach young mothers.’ So far, so good.
How many times have you walked down the high street and seen someone wear a sign on their back that says ‘I’m a banker’ (stop snigger, Brits), or‘ I’m a fresh young mother’ (you too, my US-friends).
Again – this used to be somewhat easier, because up until fairly recently, those ‘signs’ (or, more accurately, ‘signals’) did exist; digital advertising relied on ‘3rd party cookies’ which enabled advertisers – totally legally, absolutely legitimately, but, ultimately, somewhat creepily - to work with companies that tracked each and every one of us online, and understood who we were based on billions of data points stored on our the web browsers on our devices, whether we liked/ knew it or not. So, in case you were not aware, the internet was ‘free’ to use, because you and I were being bought and sold – usually without us knowing – in order that advertising was more valuable, and could therefore ensure that most (commercial) websites had a sustainable business model. Without advertisers being able to target us because of our behaviour, the ad space was worth far less, and the majority of websites would not have been able to afford to pay wages for operating costs - whether staff to write premium content, or servers to distribute that content.
Both in terms of legislation in many countries, and best practice. Tracking is becoming, quite rightly, seen as creepy, and old-hat – not to mention in many cases illegal, assuming we mean the buying and selling of your personal data, attached to your identity, without your knowledge’.
There are,however, solutions which are being put together which cater both to the legal requirements (both in terms of the letter and spirit of the law) as well as the ability to run ads to the right audiences based on their behaviour (albeit without the ability to know exactly who the person is – which actually, is far better for all of us).
These new techniques enable marketers to identify the right audiences, and run ads to them – not based on ‘Who they are’ per se, but rather on the basis of being able to anonymously identify devices (without understanding who they belong to) based on their specific behaviours.
Want to target bankers? Why not run ads on devices that show up on a daily basis in banks (but without knowing who owns the device)?
Want to target young mothers? We can understand which devices show up frequently in stores selling mother and baby products.
These same technologies can enable advertisers to understand even more than ever before about their target audiences – where else are they likely to show up, how frequently, over what period of time – but again, without ever being able to track an individual.
These technologies are all about targeting behaviours, without tracking people – ensuring our internet services can remain free, without our privacy being breached, and without our identities being bought and sold.
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