Make Ads Relevant By Letting Users Choose Them

This is the last part of the guest post by David Rostan, the co-founder and president of ListensToYou. (See part 1 on privacy, and part II on tracking.)

With ListensToYou, David hopes to improve the online advertising market by giving users control over the ads they want to see.  If you want to take a closer look at ListensToYou to understand David's approach, you can use the invitation code "adverlab" (limited to the first 100 sign-ups).

Ideally, users would be offered explicit control over ads they do and do not see on ANY website they visit across the internet. 

We think it is possible to increase the relevance of internet ads as well as our trust in the websites we frequent.  We have created a concept that allows for more consumer power and less misplaced advertising by offering customers a tool to express their preferences (categories, keywords or profiles) specifically for the purposes of connecting them with products and services they may want or need.  Websites that adhere to these user-selected declarations of ad appropriateness are allowed to put a badge on their website indicating that they “follow customer-friendly ad practices.”

We’re calling this service ListensToYou and we are interested in feedback, ideas and concerns that you have as public consumers of information, services and products. 

ListensToYou believes that, when consumers, rather than algorithms, marketers or lawmakers, choose ad content, online advertising becomes better for everyone in the value chain – publishers, advertisers and users.

Customer-friendly ad practices could, first, go a long way toward removing the irrelevance and mistrust issues of online advertising.  Rather than backward-looking behavioral targeting, users would update settings as their lives and preferences change; rather than stereotypes created by context and demographics, explicitly stated preferences pick up anomalies and get past the typical ad clickers in the typical places. 

Consumers would have one convenient, trusted place online to express the desirability and appropriateness of advertising categories or specific product and service offers that they could update or delete any time they would like. 

They would not only get more relevant ads but also be given a place to have a fair transaction of giving information in exchange for getting advertisements – a place in the conversation that they would feel good about.  Publishers would avoid wasted impressions and improve click thru rates and quality leads by serving more relevant, trusted ads.  They could even open their sites to new types of advertisers as they understand the varied preferences of their user base.

I mentioned earlier that there was no signal between publishers and consumers to indicate that the ads on a website were safe, appropriate or potentially  influenced or controlled by users.  The ListensToYou badge indicates and certifies that a publisher adheres to consumer-friendly advertising practices.  That is, the website respects consumer-stated levels of ad appropriateness and they ensure that ads do not violate user expectations (open up multiple hard-to-close ad windows, for example). 

ListensToYou serves as a validation that the publisher brings the user into the conversation about what ad content is appropriate for them, specifically, and a certification that it serves ads that are safe to click.  Therefore, publishers are able to signal that they are willing to listen and brands can choose to advertise on sites that listen – building trust even when users don’t use the ListensToYou service.

Market and non-market forces are moving quickly to “fix” some of the problems of online advertising.  Regulators are considering controls on behavioral targeting and more consumer tools are being developed to block ads or allow users to browse the internet with complete anonymity.  Meanwhile, online advertisers are creating smarter ways to gather and use implicit information to target ads. 

ListensToYou and consumer-friendly ad practices aren’t a replacement for those things, but they are a necessary improvement that brings the user’s explicit choice of content back into the equation in a meaningful way.

Prior to founding his company, David Rostan worked in marketing and strategy for technology and ecommerce companies. He has earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. 

1 comment:

  1. The rationale for all this is solid, and I entertained this notion decades ago in a similar fashion, wanting to offer consumers "only the print ads they were interested in" by having them call in and request a certain category, then delivering all the print items in an overnight courier. Same idea - give them what they want, when they want it, and spare the cost of excess, both literally and figuratively. However, the reality remains that consumers are pulled in by clever or timely advertising regardless of their needs or wants. How would your "paradigm turned upside down" (which is how I thought of it) help sell the Pet Rock, as an example? Perhaps you're not old enough to remember the Pet Rock, an ingenious bit of marketing and sales success that would be hard to repeat. Nevertheless, I congratulate you on taking this on, and wish you much luck. I'll be watching!
    Lorrie Beauchamp


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