Advertising Week gave Microsoft an excellent opportunity to talk up new Windows 8 services, but along with all the hype came a stern letter from General Counsel Bradley Smith, drafted for the Association of National Advertisers and addressed to CEO Steve Ballmer. The letter takes aim at his company’s promise to make Do Not Track a default setting in its new Internet Explorer (IE) version. The argument is that by defaulting to “on,” the online marketing experience changes and advertisers lose out. But are they rightfully concerned, or missing the point?
Don’t Track Me, Bro
An October 1, 2012 article in Ad Age discusses the letter, signed by companies like Procter & Gamble, Ford, Verizon, Coca Cola, and Wal-Mart. In it, these industry giants argue that automatically enabling Do Not Track for IE will “drastically damage the online experience by reducing the internet content and offerings that such advertising supports.” It went on to warn that while Microsoft still enjoys a 43 percent share of the browser market in the United States, defaulting to Do Not Track could “potentially eliminate the ability to collect web-viewing data of up to 43% of the browsers used by Americans.”
Most other major browsers enable Do Not Track by default, allowing users to choose how and when their online experience gets recorded. IE is late to the party when it comes to user controls, and so far Microsoft remains firm on its decision–it expected a letter or similar blowback from marketers, but apparently not during Advertising Week. It’s no surprise the company has turned to a more consumer-centric model in a market that increasingly views the Windows maker as obsolete and out of sync. And while it’s true that there’s a potential data loss in the works for advertisers, is that really such a bad thing?
Changing the Game
In a recent Huffpost Tech article, author Heather Baker makes the point that “traditional” marketing no longer works–if a PR pro made the jump even from 2008 to current day, he or she would have a hard time finding work. She argues that organizations are “scrambling to exploit the enormous opportunities to reach customers through their browsers,” but most aren’t even scratching the surface. Collaboration and communication, she says, are requirements for effective marketing efforts.
The Association of National Advertisers worry that Do Not Track settings will steal web data they so desperately need to target advertising, but this data is only a tiny piece of the overall marketing puzzle; watching how consumers surf the web and where they spend their time isn’t enough any longer–companies need to interact with users instead of lurking in the shadows, recording reams of data. Social media efforts, blogging, and viral video campaigns are all simple steps to a better marketing effort. But many agencies still depend on the passive flow of information from browsers, a flow they’re loathe to see become a trickle.
Hopefully, Microsoft keeps its word and enables Do Not Track automatically–though it does say users will receive a prompt during installation to turn the protection off if they choose–and hopefully advertisers feel a sting at the results. As Baker points out in her article, “if your SEO isn’t talking to your PR isn’t talking to your social media, you are losing out on customers,” and companies that still see IE data tracking as their first, best source of data are in for a rude awakening.