Targeting, Data and Peruvian Dinner

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On December 7 in San Francisco, Quova sponsored the IAB’s last Innovator’s Round Table Dinner (IRD) of 2010, and I had the honor of being their host.  The event was held at the popular Peruvian eatery La Mar, on Pier 1 (the food was fabulous, and if you go, be sure to order a ‘Pisco Sour’ from the bar). Having been sponsored by an industry leader in online geo location the conversation—not surprisingly—centered on the following topics related to location-based advertising:

  • The benefit of geo-location to advertisers and marketers
  • The opportunities and risks created by the joining of online and offline data
  • The responsibility and challenges of protecting consumer’s privacy.

I had the pleasure of sitting with a table of overachievers that included LaurieAnne Lassek and Walter Beisheim of Quova, Michael McGuire and Alicia Gubba of Gartner, Jack Androvich of AutoDesk and Chase Norlin of Alphabird.  I am still kicking myself for not asking the origin of the name “Alphabird” (perhaps it is the bird that incited the violence depicted by Alfred Hitchcock?).  

Our spirited conversation brought interesting points. The benefit of location awareness to advertisers was summed up in the term “relevance.”  Relevance is a nuanced term in the digital advertising industry. However, if you think of all the information we can know about a consumer and their interests before delivering an ad, it’s all potentially useless if our offers are poorly targeted with regard to a consumer’s location. For instance, my interest in Peruvian food and music is generally irrelevant, EXCEPT when I am visiting San Francisco. Then it becomes highly relevant—to La Mar

The joining of offline and online data remains a touchy subject. While we did not delve deeply into why, we did acknowledge that regulation is coming in this area, and there are challenges. One of those challenges is how to use merged data to effectively market to consumers, without making them feel as if they were being ‘stalked’ in the real world based on their online activity. Companies that control offline consumer data manage a terrifying amount of personal information.  If offline personal information is merged with online profiles, and that merger results in highly targeted online offers, there may be a risk of alarming, rather than enticing consumers—thus breaking the trust relationship between consumer and brand.  When consumers lose the ability to exercise control over their personal information, the issue becomes very sensitive. Our industry would be wise to offer consumers meaningful choice to enhance trust, not break it.  This of course, led us naturally to the last topic. 

We fear what we do not understand. The Federal Trade Commission is reminding us of this every day. If we do not want to risk driving the consumer away, then our industry must take steps to earn their trust. Trust is built through educating and offering meaningful choice to consumers. As such, the self-regulatory work we are engaged in (see will need to evolve to include targeting based on location awareness.

This was the third IRD I have attended, and the first I have hosted.  These are special events—always intimate, personal and full of stimulating conversation. Thanks to Quova for sponsoring, and thank you to all those who attended and participated.

Happy Holidays!

Steve Sullivan is VP Digital Supply Chain Solutions for the IAB