The Opt-out / Opt-in Debate: Is it better to ask for forgiveness than to seek permission?

by | Jan. 27, 2014

As a research analyst with a focus on all things advertising, a recent article written for The World Post by WPP’s CEO Sir Martin Sorrell struck a chord. Anyone entrenched in the ad world knows that one of the major implications (both positive and negative) for emerging media markets is the implicit and explicit use of consumer data. Sorrell suggests, among other issues, that the ad industry reconsider the use of “opt-out” strategies and instead employ a more transparent, and possibly more effective approach, the “opt-in.”

Two years ago, I blogged about consumer awareness of opt-out tools initiated and deployed by self-regulatory group, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) and proposed the following, “Perhaps the DAA and its members should create and deploy an opt-in tool permitting consumers to choose to receive ads that are personally relevant and useful. The opt-in option could include special offers, coupons, free content, samples, etc. in exchange for doing so. Do you think consumer awareness and engagement with an opt-in tool (with incentives) would grow at a faster rate than the opt-out strategy?”

In 2011, Parks Associates began testing consumer awareness of the AdChoices and Consumer Choice Page icons to uncover the real concern consumers had with the ways companies track them to deliver customized ad messages. At the time, few consumers were aware of these opt-out tools. In 2013, Parks Associates retested consumer awareness. The trending data reveals consumers are no more aware of industry efforts to provide opt-out solutions in late 2013 than they were in 2011. For instance, 5% of respondents reported having seen the AdChoices or Consumer Choice Page icons in 2011 and 6% report being aware of the icons in 2013. More interesting, over 50% of consumers who clicked on either icon but did not opt-out indicate they want to receive personalized ads or are not concerned with the types of ads they receive. 

Most recently, the major data management platforms, Acxiom, BlueKai, and eXelate have taken extra initiative to provide consumers’ transparency on the ways data is used to target them online. For example, Acxiom recently rolled out a data visibility program, AboutTheData, giving consumers a look at the types of data marketers have about them as well as an opt-in option to receive more relevant ads.

So, I’ll continue to argue that instead of giving consumers the option to block customized ads altogether, content owners and publishers should deploy opt-in tools, permitting consumers to choose to receive personally relevant and useful ads. As Sorrell points out, opt-in strategies must include a simplistic explanation of the consumer benefits regarding the use of data, such as access to free content, and other incentives such as special offers, coupons, and samples, all of which would undoubtedly draw the attention of consumers.

For deeper insight on the state of personalized advertising and the implications of “big data”check out Parks Associates research report, Harnessing the Power of Big Data: New Media and Advertising.

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