Category Archives: free riders

Solutions to the Privacy Debate: Lemons, Carrots and Potatoes

After reading the How to Prevent the ‘Do Not Track’ Arms Race  by Peter Swire, the inanity of it all becomes more apparent.The premise of this Wired piece is that users should have a choice…they do. They can visit a site and are implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) agreeing to receive free content and services in exchange for being presented with targeted ads.

Canny Web browsers are in a mad dash to curry favor with the genteel “Information should be free” crowd visible in the user comments. It seems that this end-run was done to pre-empt negotiations through W3C, most likely in an attempt to gain market share. However, it is surprising that for an attorney that Swire missed the opportunity to articulate the above quid pro quo argument missing in the discussion. Then again, so did the IAB. See Digital Media Lesson in Shooting One’s Foot (Part I).

The Dead Weight Web Audience (DWWW) consists of variety of ad/tracking dodgers. The size of this audience and their habits can be measured by most major site analytics tools and ad servers out-of-the-box or with some customization. Common methods include:

  1. Browser DNT
  2. Cookie blockers
  3. Ad blockers
  4. JS rejectors
  5. NAI opt-outs
  6. Likely cookie-deleters
  7. Others…

While the politicians posture and the debate rages on, sometimes it is necessary to turn these lemons into lemonade. The good news is that, solid ad analytics (or adverlytics) can inform the decision-making process about which kinds are most prevalent in your target Web audience.


Advertisers
It all starts with digital marketers and their agencies paying attention to the details of ad delivery. The growing interest in ad viewability is encouraging. For those that really want to reach a tech-savvy entitled audience that wants nothing to do with their ads  they will need to first measure it, in order to monetize it.


  • Carrot. Demographics on this audience may skew higher education and higher income; this  audience spends a lot of time online and believes in getting something for nothing and not afraid to post about it. Measuring the performance of this specific audience for your ad campaigns however, may require a concerted effort by digital media planners and analytics professionals – but that is their job.
  • Stick: Time to get up off the couch and start asking questions of your media suppliers, agencies and analytics team. Advertisers wasting impressions on an audience that doesn’t want any ads and is actively blocking your efforts to show them an ad is kind of masochistic. Ignorance is no longer an excuse as the money being wasted on targeting into the unappreciated abyss, could instead be heavied-up with more receptive audiences. Again, analytics can help refine targeting.

If existing agency analytics can’t measure the Dead Weight Web Audience, then consider adding an independent analytics consultant.

Publishers
For site publishers that really want to attract the free-riding tech-savvy audience that also wants nothing to do with supporting their business model, the same advice applies: measure it and monetize it.

  • Carrot: Allow them to consume content for free, but find a way to sell advertising against this special audience. Free-riders can become its own targetable segment by definition – no off-site tracking or ad network is even needed. Anyone with DNT header activated, rejecting 3rd party cookies, blocking JS, etc…Most larger pubs already have an audience research/analytics and ad ops teams that can help do this and if not, additional consultants can be engaged.
  • Stick: Just say no to the content free-riders. While this has been really difficult for sites that have historically been in search of bulk ad impression delivery, the writing is on the wall considering the drive for ad viewability. When these literally dodgy people visit a site, send them a pop-up that advises them to pay for the session, subscribe, register or add site to the targeting white list. If the users choose not to, show them an empty page, very stripped down content or allow an annoying freebie cap. BTW, the pop-up can carry an ad, too.

Ad Networks
The real question is what to do with the DWWW that expects free content to be there when they arrive at a network Web site. These users can be sized up and once this is done, it is a question of monetization:

  • Carrot. Though anecdotal research suggests a small percentage of users are actually opting-out and that the size of the audience is relatively small, it does represent a valuable tech-savvy segment. Simply enable ad targeting of the DNT, NAI Opt-outs and the 3rd party cookie blocking crowd. Many ad networks have a means to even exclude likely cookie-deleters from their targeting. Folks, that sounds like a new segment to sell.
  • Stick. Develop or implement ad/pay wall technology. This will force the quid pro quo. For users that want to read their favorite bloggers, they will need to pay up with cash or a small slice of their attention. Smaller long-tail publisher partners will need help pulling this off but ad networks could easily deploy this technology.

Conclusion
Whether using the carrot, the stick or both, the solution is that advertisers and publishers need to take action on their own to stop getting ripped-off. Don’t carry this sack of entitled potatoes on your back. Now is the time to measure and monetize this otherwise mass of Dead Weight Web Audience.

Leveraging an incremental approach that leverages solid adverlytics, these strategies can boost the bottom-line and shape the digital media industry for the future. In doing so, many of these regulatory problems will solve themselves.

Learn to Say No to Free-riders.

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