The decision by Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s competition authority, to rule against Facebook’s plans to merge user data from Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram is hugely significant and perhaps the first step towards the separation of data from the digital monopolies.
Global online ad spending is expected to rise to $291 billion by 2020 amounting to almost half of the total combined spend for all advertising. But while spending is on the up, consumer trust is dwindling. A survey by the CMO council concluded that digital was the least trusted media channel among consumers. Evidence of this distrust, along with growing consumer irritation with intrusive advertising, can be seen in the rising use of ad-blockers.
But while advertisers have work to do, the GDPR can be seen as the starting block for a new journey towards regaining trust.
In their efforts to engage with consumers, brands have found themselves facing a number of challenges when it comes to placing digital ads in a safe environment. With misplaced content and ‘fake news’ plaguing digital platforms, advertisers are becoming well aware of the risks of online advertising.
The stakes have risen even higher with the introduction of the new European General Data Protection Regulation. However, while the use of data – both to place ads and to target consumers – in the post-GDPR era is creating challenges, it’s also creating opportunities for brands and media agencies alike.
Rather than bemoan the new legislation, the ability to ensure brand safety and demonstrate compliance with the GDPR should be a chance to re-build trust with consumers. This relies on brands’ ability to show consumers that they are committed to gaining, retaining and using their data responsibly.
GDPR is an opportunity, not a threat
While audiences want to see ads that are creative and engaging, they also want them to be relevant to their needs and interests. For brands to deliver on these expectations, it comes down to how they use data.
Nowadays, companies have access to oceans of data that can allow them to understand not only who their audience is, but also how to reach them. However, this access to data has led consumers to question exactly how brands are using, and protecting, their private information.
This issue has become even more pressing thanks to the GDPR. The rush to meet the deadline for compliance purposes was hardly surprising. What many failed to realise is that the GDPR is an important first step and a genuine positive for the industry. Demonstrating to consumers that their data is being handled safely and in their best interests will give brands a far greater opportunity to rebuild trust, especially in a world where the way in which data is used is constantly growing and changing.
The keynote speech by Unilever’s Keith Weed earlier this year at the IAB’s annual conference in California summed up the importance of trust between brands and their consumers. He spoke of how giving people more transparency and control over their own data will help companies earn – and maintain – long-term loyalty and trust.
The future of advertising will be bright, if we make it safe
Transparency and the management of customer information must remain top of mind for brands, especially in the wake of safety issues and murky data practices. For this to happen, they must ensure that they are using ad tech platforms that place ads accurately.
The more responsible we are with creating safe environments with high-integrity, the more we can innovate and build better experiences for marketers and consumers alike. Brands like Cisco have proven that they will not invest in providers that fail to deliver on the promise of safe ad placements, after it removed adverts on YouTube.
To be able to engage with consumers through creative ads, brands must first feel confident that their investment in advertising is not simply washed down the drain by ad placements alongside inappropriate content. Better ad tech solutions are the key to allowing brands to focus more time and resources on delivering a creative and engaging ad experience for consumers.
The way in which interfaces (a platform that connects us with a product or service), infrastructure (a system that supports data) and information (any means to represent knowledge in a simulated environment) evolve will determine the future of advertising.
Smarter and more effective analysis driven by AI
With the combined pressure of brand safety and GDPR compliance, brands must turn to technology to help navigate the complex data landscape. AI-powered solutions are proving to be the key to analysing consumer information at speed, before making real-time decisions about who to target and when to target them.
AI is a tool that can declutter data, uncover patterns and create actionable information. Traditionally, advertisers were used to black box practices but this was a highly secretive and inaccurate process. Now, brands can build a strategy with AI that sees a campaign launched at the right time, with the right message and, most crucially, in a safe environment.
AI can also be a driver behind semantic contextual targeting solutions that protect a brand’s image and keep customers’ private data safe. This kind of targeting technology can interpret web pages at a highly granular level and develop a human-like understanding of the meaning behind the content; it can spot inappropriate placements before the ad is served.
Emerging technologies like AI will always enter the fold, but their focus must remain on driving business performance, achieving better customer insight and making experiences relevant. The responsible use of data will create a positive cycle of new opportunities for marketers to create valuable relationships with the audience. Only then, can AI drive every single step of a brand campaign and give advertisers greater control over planning, research and execution.
We cannot afford to treat ‘trust’ as just another 2018 buzzword. It is the backbone of all advertising, for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer success. As consumers’ understanding about how companies use their data grows, the safe placement of adverts and GDPR compliance will be more important than ever.
It is up to brands to implement the right technology – with AI at its core – that can both ensure brand safety and deliver ads that consumers want to see without infringing on their privacy. Only then will brands be able to re-build trust.
Andrew Morsy is a business leader with a passion for online advertising technology. He is currently managing director at advertising platform Sizmek.
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