Carl White, CEO, ValueClick Europe
Carl White, CEO, ValueClick Europe
A view from Carl White and Nick Stringer

Think BR: Consumers are ready for an open dialogue about online advertising and privacy

Consumers are ready for an open dialogue about online advertising and privacy, writes Carl White, chief executive, ValueClick Europe, and Nick Stringer, director of regulatory affairs, IAB UK.

Two messages come ringing through from the recent independent study by Kantar Media exploring UK consumer’s understanding of the mechanics of online privacy and advertising.

The most striking is that the majority of people understand the value exchange between online advertising and the content it helps pay for.

However, a lack of understanding among consumers could hold back the digital marketing sector. People also want more information about advertising online, because, to-date we have not done a good enough job to explain how it works.

This uncertainty is potentially breeding misinformation and doubts about how information is used and whether it is secure.

Developing this project as organisations – big and small – seek to work towards compliance with the revised EU ePrivacy Directive, we agreed from the outset that what was required was credible data on people’s attitudes and levels of understanding.

We wanted to cut through all the regulatory noise. So we decided that a large proportion of the study should be carried out face to face with respondents. In total 2,000 people were interviewed, 650 of which were off-line interviews.

This proved vital. The report found that consumers are incredibly positive about advertising both on and off-line, findings that critics could all too easily question if the methodology hadn’t been so robust.

Our study found 60% of UK consumers agree that the majority of the internet would "disappear" without advertising; a finding leant weight by 46% saying that access to the internet should be a fundamental human right.

We also found 52% are 'happy' (yes happy, not neutral) to see online advertising because they accept it supports online services and content at little or no cost.

Just 10% say they would be happy to pay for websites or services online that are currently free if advertising was removed from them.

The report reveals a depth and maturity of understanding about online advertising and marketing which is frankly surprising. The desire for relevancy was a theme that shone through.

For example, 59% would rather have a lower number of relevant ads online than a higher number of less relevant ones, and in general 55% said they would rather see ads relevant to them online.

Meanwhile, 45% said they thought that the ads they currently see are completely random. These two facts taken together suggest that a significant proportion of our audience would welcome relevant online advertising.

Obviously people see online advertising, but our study suggests they also have an opinion on how good we are at engaging them with useful, relevant communications.

Our line of questioning then addressed attitudes and awareness of data-sharing and control over privacy.

We found 40% of consumers already accept that to receive digital services at little or no cost, companies need to be able to access information about their online behaviour and 45% said they were 'happy' for advertisers to show them ads based on their browsing behaviour.

We found a mixture of over-confidence - 67% are confident they know how to protect their privacy - and concern - 62% worry about privacy.

Cookies are a particular area of confusion; half said they had deleted cookies in the last six months - 20% in the last week - but of the 64% who claimed to know what a cookie was, 57% actually chose the correct definition.

In effect, four in 10 (39%) who deleted their cookies in the last six months did so without correctly knowing what they were used for.

The report reveals both the opportunity and the challenge facing the online advertising industry. We need to close the gap between the reassuringly positive attitudes to and interest in online advertising among consumers and the whirlpool of misinformation and anxiety about privacy.

It’s clear that the industry must engage consumers consistently over time, providing transparent information and empowering them to make informed choices.

An important part of the process is the introduction across Europe - backed up by a consumer awareness campaign - of the advertising icon in ads, providing greater transparency and control over customised advertising based upon previous web browsing activity, but individual businesses and brands must also follow through on this. We need a ‘privacy by design’ approach that will empower people.

We’ve found people are receptive and open-minded about online advertising. We shouldn’t squander the opportunity to cast more light on how the commercial internet works.

Carl White, CEO, ValueClick Europe, and Nick Stringer, director of regulatory affairs, IAB UK