Perspectives 2020: From Privacy to Politics

December 27, 2019

I checked. Exactly a year ago today I wrote my 2019 Perspectives. After further review, I’m pretty danged pleased with how they turned out. Facebook didn’t go away. More old media turned to programmatic platforms. And, per usual, finding people who know just what the hell is going on is far from a commodity. 

This year, I’m going to take a much more practical approach.

Privacy, oh privacy, you cunning temptation. On January 1st, California’s consumer privacy law (CCPA) goes into effect. We’re prepared. We’ve been prepared for a while now because EU laws have already been in place. But what about the consumer? I don’t know what to say about privacy and the consumer. I just don’t think people other than lawyers and a small cadre of activists care as much about privacy as we think. The consequences of not being private aren’t real to the vast majority of consumers. I’m not talking about being hacked (although, yeah, that sucks). I’m talking about the type of cookie data and other consumer tracking methods that, in most applications, can actually make the web and your apps a better, more relevant user experience. Privacy concerns, in the short term, will be handled primarily through blanket privacy policies posted on websites. And people will click them because they want to get to the content they intended.

Privacy concerns, in the short term, will be handled primarily through blanket privacy policies posted on websites. And people will click them because they want to get to the content they intended.

Where privacy laws will be impacted the most will be in the courts against unscrupulous data providers. That’s cool. That should also happen to unscrupulous marketers who use that data or, better yet, marketers who frankly should know better but don’t. Let’s weed out the market, and not put these pressures on consumers who are just trying to live their lives.

I also want to be extra clear here. I believe privacy is extraordinarily important, and I believe we as marketers have a tremendous responsibility to respect consumer desire. We should be at the forefront. In fact, we need to be because consumers are at the core of everything we do, and, if privacy issues become ugly, then these wonderful digital channels for reach and engagement will undergo pressures at a rate far beyond anything we’ve experienced before. Measurability runs both ways: it creates incredible opportunities and predictability but disproportionate scrutiny.

People don’t hate ads. They hate irrelevant ads. Lock and step with privacy laws are the unheralded benefits of targeting, both for brands and consumers. Targeting based upon behavioral or demographic traits provides consumers with a more relevant Internet experience. And here’s the deal: consumers haven’t proven they’re willing to pay for content yet, so in absence of that, who’s going to pay for that content? Advertisers. It’s the unholy bond. Another fun fact: newsrooms were decimated this year. People in rural communities in particular were left without their local news sources. In its wake, people in those communities are more susceptible to news aggregators (AKA large, national holding companies). The result is homogenized news content, which gives people in rural communities fewer perspectives and damn near group-think level madness within the free content made available to them.

Advertising pricing models are still totally broken. This is my old yarn. I’ve written about it for years. So why stop now? Yes, price inflation is happening on Facebook, Google and other mammoth tech companies. But pricing models for everyone else are still largely based on well out-of-date CPM models with terrible attribution methods in place. And here’s the real problem with that: until publishers can properly measure their audiences like tech companies can, money will continue to flow away from everyone but the most measurable. As an agency owner, I have a real problem with this. On the one hand, I want diversification of media channels. On the other, I respect the pressures brand leaders are under to deliver solid ROI. But my real problem is that while I know real people are consuming real content on real websites and apps, buying on these channels requires my clients to take risks when compared to other channels like Facebook and Google. Remember, the increase in spend in those monster channels are due primarily to measurability and flexibility, not quality. Valuing real people wherever they may be is, in my opinion, the single greatest industry challenge, if not the single greatest challenge to f’n democracy. I don’t kid about that.

Valuing real people wherever they may be is, in my opinion, the single greatest industry challenge, if not the single greatest challenge to f’n democracy.

The recession, if it happens, will grow digital. So not surprising if you’ve stuck with me til here, I believe a recession will put tremendous pressures on not-as-accountable media channels, namely anything non-digital like linear television and terrestrial radio. Never mind that we believe real people watch and listen to these channels. But measurement platforms like Nielsen and so on aren’t as granular as native digital ones. A recession will put enormous pressures on CMOs to perform and deliver. And, as stated previously, how much risk will a CMO put towards channels that she can’t fully account for? Let me put one caveat on this prediction: I think the 2020 CMO of the Year (from whatever source) will be the one who cleverly and smartly integrates spend across all media disciplines regardless of attribution, while achieving such accolades primarily because she’s a visionary with incredible intestinal fortitude and amazing “selling up” skills within her organization.

Election 2020. I don’t believe Donald Trump will win the next election. But I do believe the Russians will attempt to hack the shit out of this entire political season. Why not? They have been successfully hacking the brains of a huge swath of the American populace beginning before the 2016 election and throughout this presidency. The 2020 election is a marking point in our grand democratic republic. Our greatest threat is ourselves. If we don’t find a way to reach across our political differences, find candidates who can unify, and ultimately put the train back on the rails, then we have a long future where unsavory Americans, oligarchs, criminals and other powerful people (for whom democracy is an inconvenience) continue to be bedfellows. Power does not give up easily. But I believe in democracy. I believe it is more powerful than money. This election is about our hearts and minds. And for that reason, I am going to believe in America…and not this President.