Online ad industry strives for self-regulation

Marketers are hoping that online advertising self-regulation initiatives announced last month will increase trust and transparency with consumers, as well as stave off government oversight. 

A coalition of industry groups, including the Direct Marketing Association, the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, launched the effort to give marketers an “advertising option” symbol on their Internet ads ? and to give consumers a choice out of behavioral tracking. The Council of Better Business Bureaus will monitor websites’ tracking to assure compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s “Self Regulatory Principles for On-line Behavioral Advertising.” The groups will also operate a website for consumers, and encourage marketers and advertisers to comply with the principles. 

Industry experts say Internet advertising, if conducted openly, can provide a rewarding experience for consumers and show them free content. 

“Online behavioral advertising, if done correctly and with a level of trust and transparency, helps make the marketing experience relevant to them and an enjoyable user experience,” said Sal Tripi, senior director of operations and compliance at Publishers Clearing House. “A well-timed, well-served and relevant ad can become a well timed ad on one side, but an important piece of content for consumers because targeted advertising is very important to driving free content on a site. However, it must be done with transparency and choice so users who are comfortable can use it, and those who aren’t can opt out.” 

Tripi said his company has been testing a program similar to the recently launched initiative. PCH will modify its own “advertising option” logo and make other small changes. 

Industry experts are hoping that the program will satisfy privacy advocates and government officials. In recent months, lawmakers have put forward a number of consumer privacy measures and the head of the FTC has said that “do-not-track” legislation, which would hinder marketers’ ability to legally collect and use consumer data, is an option. 

“It is off to a good start, and I think it was more complex to get off the ground than anyone had anticipated. It’s gotten favorable reviews from the FTC so far,” says Scott Meyer, CEO and founder of Better Advertising, which created the self-regulation platform. “We have been very impressed with how seriously leading brands, agencies and networks are taking the self-regulatory program, and we have never been busier explaining to folks what the principles mean.”

“The main goal is to give consumers the option of opting out of behavioral ads. That is what the FTC said consumers want and that is what we are hoping to give them,” said Linda Woolley, EVP of government
affairs at the DMA. “That having been said, I hope Congress gives the whole program a chance to work, and that we can all look at it, get some data from it and figure out whether it is meeting consumer needs.”

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