ADOTAS – BlueKai CEO Omar Tawakol recently learned that he loved to dine on Patagonian toothfish. He’d been under the impression that he was chowing down on Chilean sea bass, but in truth the toothfish has no relation to the bass family. In addition to its ugly true name, the actual fish isn’t much to look at.
But in this culinary rebranding Tawakol saw an analogy to user data — for too long companies would catch an ugly, single piece of data and then re-sell it as a market.
However, at the Digiday:TARGET conference at the W Hotel in New York City’s Union Square, Tawakol claimed we are entering a transparency renaissance, where black-box technology is replaced by clear-box technology that allows clients to comprehend where the data is coming from.
Coming a day after a much-hyped Federal Trade Commission public roundtable on online privacy. Transparency was the topic du jour at the targeting-focused event. A general sentiment expressed throughout the day was that the industry had not done enough to educate consumers about targeting practices, something that would be high on the agenda going into 2010.
Some attendees, such as Tawakol, had actually spent the previous day at the FTC roundtable in Washington. Tawakol appeared on a panel and delivered data suggesting that FTC’s definition of targeting might be broad enough to cover upwards of 70% of online advertising.
In his keynote address, Bill Wise, vice president and general manager of Right Media for Yahoo!, acknowledged the industry’s inadequate explanation of its practices, noting that the sour macroeconomic environment made many companies hunker down and miss the bigger picture.
Just like how past recessions introduced groundbreaking interactive advertising companies, he said, the current downturn is bringing forth the new leaders in the space — which has been dramatically transformed.
“We no longer live in a black and white world,” Wise said. “Once there was a buy side, a supply side, agencies — but now everyone is an intermediary.”
Wise also detailed Yahoo!’s recent decision to terminate the Direct Media Exchange and rebrand Right Media as a premium exchange. Comparing the exchange to eBay’s evolution from selling junk in the attic to new cars, Wise said it was always the plan to move up-market from remnant inventory and the company now has the capabilities to do such. The players have matured and the market has shifted, he said.
Another observation, repeated by many throughout the day, is that advertisers are keen on the idea of erasing the proxy — no longer do they want to use a publisher to find an audience, they want the audience itself. Hence the growing emphasis on data strategy.
However, Mark Zagorski, CRO of eXelate, thought the idea of a data strategy was a misnomer. “That’s like saying ‘What’s your banner strategy?'” he commented. “Data is just an element, a tool.”
He commented that we’re still in the initial steps of determining how info can be targeted. Transparency will also increase in relevance as data dealers seek to broaden their appeal by aiming higher in the purchase funnel.
“There’s a lot more money at the top of the funnel than the bottom,” Zagorski said. “But selling data further up is far more complex.”
Panelists also debated questions of who owns the inventory and whether data is more valuable than media and should be priced accordingly. However, the issue of transparency was never far away.
“All attributes in the selling process need to be shown,” said Tawakol. “We can’t be hiding stuff that we think might freak out consumers.”