Beyond Self-Regulation: Reasons to Love the Future of Advertising

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Insights from the IAB Ad Operations Community on Meaningful Choice

multiplechoiceoryaltyfree.jpgAn amazing era in advertising is emerging when we can finally deliver a much-heralded but yet-to-be-realized promise: the right ad in the right place at the right time. We worry about how Do Not Track, Opt-Out, the FTC, and privacy enthusiasts will negatively impact our business models. But while we fret, we often fail to recognize new innovations making consumers’ lives better each and every day.

Yes, consumers need the ability to opt out. However, they also want options to improve their online experience. They may want help shopping for shoes. But they may not want to see the same Zappos ad after they just bought a new pair.

We call this Meaningful Choice. Through this blog series, we’ll explore perspectives on this exciting new concept with the IAB ad operations community. Our focus will be on two questions. What does Meaningful Choice mean to you? And how do we, as an industry, deliver Meaningful Choice into the hands of consumers?

As the blog series moderator, I want to avoid unduly influencing future contributions by describing what I think meaningful choice is. But, I am willing to say what it is not.

When provided with a choice of mostly incomprehensible options, a person is going to choose the one thing they understand. Take this overly dramatic metaphor for example: Your naturopathic physician friend offers you a bag of pills of different sizes, shapes, and colors but with no discernable markings. She tells you, “You can live without these—most of them are harmless and some of them are extremely beneficial, but one is deadly. Choose any combination of them that you would like, or, of course, you can opt out altogether and take none of them.” The only real choice in this scenario is to opt out completely. You would not have a Meaningful Choice.

When the average consumer sees an industry opt-out page, she is presented with a similarly well-intentioned yet meaningless set of options. We give her a list of companies of which she has no knowledge, no understanding, and no reason to trust. Often, the only choice is to opt out of all of them.

One may argue that the average consumer is smarter than that, but if I had a dollar for each time an industry insider shared with me a story of buying something only to be aggressively targeted with ads for that same product over the following months, I would have at least $20.

“I don’t want to have to opt out, I just want to tell somebody that I already bought those shoes.”

This lack of choice is not just affecting display advertising:

“Whilst I’ve always thought of interest targeted ads as a good thing (who wants to be presented with something completely different to what you like?) they are starting to get on my nerves a fair bit. Every day I’ll go onto the web and see the same old adverts, day after day. I’ve already signed up for these products…why are they still trying to get me again? So yeah…I’ll be turning this off.”


Online behavioral advertising self-regulation is a huge step in the right direction. It has been slow, but that is, in part, because we are still thinking about it as self-regulation. The infrastructure behind the Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) program is exactly the vehicle we need to open a meaningful dialogue with the consumer. Instead of, “How do we meet the minimum bar for self-regulation?” we should be asking, “What should our dialogue be with the consumer?” After all, that dialogue is the future of advertising.

Steve Sullivan is VP of Digital Supply Chain Solutions for the IAB. You can follow him on Twitter @stevesullivan32. Continue the discussion on “Meaningful Choice”, and this IAB Ad Ops blog series, on Twitter by adding #MeaningfulChoice to your tweets.