Don Marti

Sun 12 Dec 2010 06:27:32 PM PST

Target: your foot. Fire at will.

Blog comment from Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy Group UK saying that I'm "very largely right" on the ad targeting problem. (background: Web ad targeting: can customers get a better deal? and Ad targeting: better is worse?)

Read the whole "Manifest Density" blog entry that it's attached to, though. It covers the backlash against a proposed FTC "Do Not Track" regulation. But the funny thing is that a web ad market that facilitates easy tracking of users is one that makes itself less and less valuable to advertisers.

As a reader, the more likely it is that the ad you're seeing is custom-targeted to you, the less information the advertiser is able to convey. (Non-targeted ads can signal an advertiser's willingness to back up a product. With good targeting, you could be the one poor loser who they're trying to stick with the last obsolete unit in the warehouse.)

As a content site, the more that the market is oriented towards targeting, the more of an incentive you have to run the crappiest content that anyone would ever click on.

And as an advertiser of a high-quality product, you're unable to send a clear signal to differentiate yourself from low-quality sellers who know how to play the targeting system.

One approach to the tracking problem would be for content sites and browser developers to collaborate on tracking-resistant systems. (Microsoft's "Tracking Protection" for MSIE 9 is a positive step toward this.)

And of course, the approach that I think will get the most traction quickly is for advertisers to invest in real live events that create strong online echoes, instead of online directly. A good trade show presence is a signal that's very difficult to fake.