Here at Spot-on we’ve always been a little leery of online ad targeting.
In the online political space, targeting – using computer code to personalize advertising as a reader moves around the web – can backfire, especially when sensitive topics make in onto ballots or take center stage in campaigns. People might not mind putting a check in the mail but they sure do mind being “followed” on the web. Add to that the fact that Internet use is heaviest at the office, and, well, you can see why questions about privacy can’t be dismissed.
That’s why this week’s Wall Street Journal series on online privacy is so important. It details – with plain language and easy-to-understand graphics – how targeting works. And it talks with intelligence and political sense about how ad data is collected and how it’s used.
This won’t be the last of these stories; it’s just the 1st. Other outlets will pile on. Which means online ad targeting – pretty much the nerdy purview of the Federal Trade Commission and Congressional subcommittees – is now a consumer issue. You can count on more and more discussions – not to mention questions from clients – along with grandstanding and camera-hogging.
Why is this important for political media? It’s been very easy for some of these firms to market targeting as a well-used and familiar tool because it can look like the targeting used in direct mail. That’s probably going to change as companies amend their practices to conform to regulatory pressure. That’s the good news.
The bad news? Aggressive online targeting is a potential campaign issue – just like voting history or financial holdings. That’s the main reason Spot-on urges clients to use targeting carefully, especially for the hot-button issues that bring voters to the polls.
Editor’s Note: Chris Nolan is Spot-on’s founder. In another life she covered Congress and the regulation of the telecom business for Washington-based trade magazines.