Advertising Industry Should Learn from Permission Marketing or Risk Losing More Than Just a Cookie

Gary Portney

It’s now been over 21 years since Seth Godin wrote his book on Permission Marketing. Since then, the marketing world has taken this very seriously but, unfortunately, the advertising world hasn't.

It’s now been over 21 years since Seth Godin wrote his book “Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers”. Godin observed that successful marketing campaigns were the ones that sought the customer’s permission.  Further and arguably more important, is that permission marketing must allow consumers to choose whether or not to be subjected to marketing. 

This concept has become the de facto mode of operation in channels like email marketing, loyalty cards and RSS feeds but has been largely absent when it comes to digital advertising.

Ad blocking software changes this paradigm. 

With consumers demanding control over their experience and privacy, the industry cannot afford to wait much longer. The harder the industry pushes for invasive practices that degrade the user experience, the more we are asking for government regulation, consumer backlash and the adoption of “protective services” AKA - Ad Blocking and many associated services. Many companies continue not to learn this lesson and all of us witness this every day.  

So what is the industry waiting for?

Regrettably, permission has not swept the advertising industry since Godin first wrote his book. In the ensuing years, the antithesis has actually happened. The industry lost sight of the consumer, did not give a shit about permission in any way shape or form and became a surveillance based ecosystem.  The only attempts at asking for permission has been for  subscriptions, opt-in emails, registrations to access sites or specific content, and a couple other examples. And that’s mostly not permission by the way. Instead, digital publishers, advertisers, search platforms, networks, social media companies and the host of ad tech companies all turned their sights towards trying to turn strangers into enemies (the exact opposite of what Godin proposed) by capturing as much personal data as possible. Programmatic advertising using behavioral targeting of consumers at scale has been the focus in the pursuit of increasing revenues, but at the cost of a dramatic decline in advertising quality, pissed off consumers and lawmakers that barely know the difference between a brownie and a cookie (but they get to make the laws). The big boys have exacerbated the problems with their half-hearted claims of fixing the problems and bringing a spotlight to an already shining problem. 

The use of cookies, behavioral tracking and the capturing use and selling of personal information without consumer permissions became the norm. In effect, the world of advertising, rather than embracing permission, took the diametrically opposite direction and for a time were largely unchecked in the manner and practices used to generate income at the consumers’ expense. The world changed from “may I have permission to know you” to “I am going to know you whether you like it or not.”

The impact of ignoring the consumer 

Whether unseen, under-estimated or ignored, as the use of ad tech grew, consumers became tech-savvy as well and gained a heightened awareness and understanding of how these digital technologies work. As time progressed, consumers saw advertising changing into forced and intrusive experiences and this became intolerable, driving them to use any tools and measures available to protect their privacy to eliminate intrusive advertising, tracking and other nefarious actions.

The response as we now  know has been a major backlash on two fronts. Firstly, people have taken back control of their experiences with an estimated 1.7 billion frustrated consumers now using ad blockers including 31% of internet users in the United States. Secondly, the capture and misuse of personal data has resulted in such an outcry that regulators have stepped in. We have already seen GDPR in Europe. Then in April 2018 following the Facebook/Cambridge debacle, Congressional hearings on data privacy resulted in a new privacy bill, the CONSENT Act being introduced. Then last year California passed  The California Consumer Privacy Act establishing new, groundbreaking consumer privacy rights and these are now sweeping the country.

These regulations are but a tip of the iceberg in terms of what is likely to come.

The impact on digital companies

Needless to say the industry is severely affected by these dynamics:

  1. Firstly, advertisers and publishers are seeing billions of dollars in lost opportunity in not being able to reach ad blocking audiences, perhaps the most coveted of all audiences (educated, higher incomes, technically savvy, employed).
  2. We are seeing a sea change with the death of behavioral targeting, the resurgence of contextual advertising, and the specter of a cookieless digital-marketplace with no behavioral tracking. This change started back in 2018 after the implementation of GDPR and was highlighted in an article by Jessica Davies at Digiday. Since then, the market is settling  into the reality that tracking consumers on-line, without their explicit permission is over.

These are but two examples of the paradigm shift we are seeing in our industry and that major remedial changes are needed.

What’s The Answer: Permission is the New Digital Economy

At Adtoniq, we are seeing the amazing impact from doing right by consumers. We give back control to consumers who use ad blockers, offering them choices to opt in to see ads or not and then making it frictionless to give permission. We respect their privacy, leaving their respective ad blocker “on” and NOT tracking them or trying to figure out where they live, how much money they make, what kind of car they drive, etc. You get the point. 

Seth Godin was right, permission-based marketing works.  It has a dramatic, positive impact on consumer behavior. 

The bottom line is that treating ad block consumers (all consumers for that matter) with respect, meeting them in their space and on their terms is the perfect way, and perhaps the only way forward for all concerned. 

Permission-based advertising is the key to engaging with the substantial ad blocking community, opening a brand new audience that has been completely unavailable, until now. It requires a change in thinking and action, recognizing that consumers now have the power to decide what is acceptable for them and practices that will not be tolerated by them. It's common sense, it's where we are headed and this change in thinking and attitude opens the door to progressive ways of expanding consumer engagement, reach and conversion.

In the new Permission-based Economy, consumer engagement will transform over time, rebuild mutual respect, increase consumer interest, trust and attention that in turn will lift brand value and create new revenue streams for brands and publishers and directly address consumer concerns and frustrations.

So if you have Seth Godin’s book (Permission Marketing) on a shelf somewhere, dust it off and read it. If you don't, here is a link.

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What is

Permission-based Advertising?

Adtoniq technology allows for ads to be served to ad block audiences with their permission which results in higher engagement and more conversions.

We only serve ads to an ad blocker when they have given some form of consent to do so. We do not force ads on ad block users, nor do we ask them to white-list or turn off their ad blockers. Users can revoke their permission at any time and we strive to make their experience fully transparent.