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Jarvis Coffin

Jarvis Coffin

Posted: July 22, 2009 10:36 AM

Ad Agencies Should Pay Attention to Potential Opt-In Legislation in Washington


Edward Barrera, Editor of Adotas, raises serious concerns that advertising agencies may be dozing through the privacy debate in Washington D.C. that is right now headed towards opt-in requirements for all advertising online. Opt-in means that any time a consumer is presented with an ad, that consumer will be required to accept or reject the cookies associated with that ad, which are there largely to provide the advertiser and their agents with the ability to manage the delivery of the message.

The truth is, ad agencies are probably faking it. Their eyes are shut, but their eye-lids are twitching. They are awake and they are listening. As Edward suggests in his column, many are working on the assumption that privacy legislation is going to hurt them a lot less than many ad networks, with the result that they can recapture control over a great deal of media planning and buying online that they lost by treating most of the Internet as throw-away material. A blast at high altitude over the industry is just the thing, they think, to level the playing field.

Yes, perhaps. Agencies have a trump card, which is the relationships they enjoy with the clients. In contrast, many purveyors of media space online, including many ad networks, enjoy relationships with advertisers or publishers that are only as deep as their last lunch and which can be easily swept away by the crosswinds of change, including, potentially, regulatory change.

But agencies should focus on what sort of world it might be once the smoke clears. As a consumer, it's not a world I relish. I don't even like the reminders Microsoft Windows pops to me each time I want to tinker with a document, let alone the opt-in intrusions that dooms-sayers suggest might attend every ad online. The freedoms that both consumer and advertiser enjoy online could be severely compromised by opt-in legislation that erects check-points every few yards. Doesn't advertising have enough problems? People don't like commercial interruptions. Now the potential exists to place an interruption in the way of the interruption?

There are fundamental advertising issues at stake here, the defense of which should be of paramount concern to ad agencies. They have been taunted relentlessly over the years by the digital upstart classes, and who can blame them for imagining a world where the taunters have been muzzled. Still, there is the question of an effective working relationship with consumers, which has been steadily eroding for years. Agencies should have no desire for an Internet experience that says "Kick Me!" every time consumers encounter advertising messages, something opt-in will surely contribute to the "enjoyment" of an agency's work each and every time.

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