@ pC2011: Rothenberg: Avoiding Targeting Issue Led To Negative Climate

Years of avoiding the ad targeting as a consumer issue by the online marketing industry has led to the current climate of hyperbolic fear and the threat of tighter regulation, said returning Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO Randall Rothenberg in a panel session at the paidContent 2011 conference. Of course, wading into the complexity of the issue had a lot to do with that avoidance.

Rothenberg provided a concise history of the ad targeting issue, starting with DoubleClick’s purchase of Abacas back in 1999. The combination between the nascent internet ad serving firm and the offline analytics company raised hackles on Capitol Hill and the industry was told to self-regulate or else. After a quick scramble, the industry formed a group to govern targeting practices and trouble was averted. The lesson that the industry learned was to focus on the policy conversation. It neglected consumer education as targeting gathered steam in space, fearing it was too complex to delve into with consumers.

“That created a void and it was filled by anti-advertising groups who were able to influence the conversation at the consumer level,” he said. “That ultimately influenced the wider regulatory environment.”

Still, Rothenberg said that despite change between the period when the FTC gave the nod toward continuing the self-policing regime in 2007 and the calls for “Do Not Track” buttons being introduced to browsers, the industry has made fixes and addressed the issues about privacy and opting-out. “Just this weekend, the IAB board adopted a new code of conduct governing privacy and targeting.”

The conversation, moderated by Ernie Sander, executive editor, ContentNext Media/paidContent, then turned to the tension between online brand advertising and measurement. Ex-Google (NSDQ: GOOG) engineer Josh McFarland, who is now CEO of e-commerce retargeted TellApart mentioned the challenges that he and others at his former company faced when trying to devise metrics around branding campaigns.

“When it comes to designing a house, you need an architect and an engineer,” Rothenberg said. He then went on to discuss the nature of branding, asking the crowd to provide a definition. No one ventured an answer. “Cowards,” Rothenberg said. He then went on to say what branding isn’t (“Some people say it’s a promise — that’s crap…”) and instead explained that it is the reason that one known cola company can charge 50 cents more for another, lesser know cola maker now and five years from now. It’s means something, but that’s not necessarily something that can be defined easily.