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5 Existential Questions GDPR Raises
A couple months in, GDPR is forcing the industry to prove its worth.
By Eric Thompson Kyle Kienitz

June 28, 2018

7 min read
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The dust from the initial GDPR scuffle has settled.

And the digital advertising industry is finally getting a clear view of the landscape ahead.

It looks OK. Not so bad, really.

But emerging in the near distance are some huge looming questions this industry is going to have to address sooner rather than later. Here are a few LumenAd sees right now and what we think about them.


Why did the advertising industry assume it had the right to people’s data?

When you step back, the ecosystem this industry has cobbled together assumes some weird things. One assumption is that consumers will gladly trade their data for content and a more personalized experience.

The problem is that consumers have had no real knowledge of exactly what and how much data they were trading for free content, social media platforms, etc. Yes, they “read” the Terms of Service and “agreed” to accepting cookies — but what does that actually mean for them and their data?

GDPR is supposed to help consumers find the answers to questions like these. You can read our GDPR breakdown here.

The result is that consumers have greater control over their data. And, while funny, all those GDPR privacy policy memes in May showed the annoyance of consumers with the whole system.

They find personalized ads creepy, they want more transparency, and the ultimate (and harrowing) truth is that, when given more control with ad blocking technology, consumers have led the “largest boycott in human history — 1.7+ billion human beings block ads online.”*

That last fact is hard to argue against. There are many people who don’t like how digital advertising has been done. GDPR and potential future regulations like CONSENT and California’s Consumer Privacy Act are trying to change that.

That last fact is also a big part of why LumenAd was founded — to make digital advertising provide value for both the consumer and the brand.


Does programmatic advertising work?

Yes. Programmatic advertising gets results. We prove it every day for a living.

But quantifying and contextualizing the full, true impact of digital advertising is a massive task (and one that we’re well on our way to answering).

Here’s how Kyle Kienitz, VP of Cross-Channel Solutions, puts it:

“One of the big promises of programmatic is attribution. But no one in this industry really wants the question of attribution solved — who is clicking what, when and why. Brands are always pushing for answers. As soon as someone is able to actually provide those answers, it will change how the internet is run. Once brands truly know down to the fraction of a cent how effective their digital ad spend is and why it’s effective or not effective, the fat of the industry is going to get cut real quick.”

Another facet of this question is the level of personalization data-driven programmatic advertising provides. Kyle went on to say,

“GDPR has forced the industry to face the fact that it’s been so focused on personalization it forgot the building blocks of good advertising. Like showing the product in a context where the audience is most receptive.”

Now that GDPR is drying up some sources of data, programmatic contextual targeting (which means automatically placing ads where they relate to content the consumer is seeking out) is starting to have its day.

The basic tenets of advertising will always be there and the early promises of programmatic has lead much of the industry astray. Now the industry is starting to return to form.


What role will digital advertising play in the public’s changing relationship with data?

Future keyword to look out for: “Data Detox.” People are starting to see their data as something to curate. Publishers and social media platforms that don’t give them that ability may start to get edged out.

As of the writing of this post, big news is Apple doubling down on Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.0 and the potential for Mozilla to follow suit with Firefox. Basically, the browser blocks tracking cookies and makes device fingerprinting near impossible.

Consumers will like this.

Instead of users seeing Safari as annoying with its “Do you want to allow tracking cookies?” pop-ups, the users will be annoyed with publishers and platforms for needing so many cookies in the first place.

It’ll be on the publishers and platforms to listen and watch consumer reactions to this rollout. They’ll need to adjust their approach to keep consumers engaged with their content.

The way forward for digital advertisers is to watch and listen, too. The voice of consumers has a very real impact. Plug your ears to your peril.


How responsible are we for digital literacy?

Data is being (and has been for a long time) hoarded by a few huge players. GDPR is the first of what may be many attempts at putting the control of that data back in the hands of consumers.

Thing is, as the internet is now, that requires a lot of effort on the consumer’s part.

There are Consent Management Platforms (CMPs) that try to make this transition easier for everyone involved, but (at the time of writing this) those are quickly turning into another “Terms of Service” situation. Lots of info. Lots of uninformed “I Accepts.”

The spirit of the law is pretty clear, though: data collectors need to explicit about why they’re collecting data, who it’s going to and how it’ll be used.

Providing this information is no small effort. Providing it in a way that’s easy for any consumer to navigate is an even bigger effort.

So, how much effort does the industry put in? According to many (like those 1.7+ billion using ad blockers), all of it. If it requires so much effort, maybe the whole ecosystem should get scrapped. Or at least simplified.

We don’t necessarily agree with this. But GDPR is putting more firepower in the hands of those that do.


Will the AdTech industry survive?

As it is right now? No.

GDPR will cause (and has already caused) massive consolidation. In Europe, if you’re not a big AdTech player, you’re walking a tightrope between getting bought out or flat out failing.

The duopoly of Google and Facebook controls ~90% of the digital advertising space. And Amazon is making moves to become the big third player.

These two (and soon to be three) will edge out the bit players while telecom companies like AT&T snap up what they can. The end result will be consolidation and walled gardens.

This kills innovation. And, as an industry, we need innovation to prove our worth.

P&G cut $200 million in digital ad spend. More will follow suit. We need new solutions from new players to allow agencies to give these brands what they want.


These existential questions need to be addressed by people with unique perspectives outside of what the behemoths want.

The digital advertising industry has stumbled to where it’s at and GDPR forces us to take more measured, sure steps. The full consequences remain to be seen, but right now things are pretty much the same. Just a few new hoops to jump through. But it has caused a ton of soul searching for this industry in the past few months.

It’s no sweat for us. We’ve been soul searching since 2014. These are the questions we asked ourselves from the get-go. They’ve shaped what we’ve become and will continue to do so.

* Doc Searls

existential questions gdpr insights laws opinions regulations

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