Mar 24, 2021
In this week’s episode, we’re sharing our perspectives on privacy and how data tracking and targeting capabilities have shaped the advertising industry. We discuss what privacy means to us as consumers and as agency leaders, and we even explore how reduced targeting could actually be a good thing for our industry. After all, great content that tells a great story will always be what sells… and you don’t have to infringe on someone’s privacy to create an effective ad.
Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:
For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:
About The Guys:
Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000-2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob:
Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:
Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken:
[0:37] Bob introduces today’s episode, Is Silicon Valley Trying to Kill Facebook?
[2:09] Bob continues, talking about the real power that Facebook has in our culture right now. Recently Google made a quiet announcement that they will no longer use third party or private cookies for tracking, which means no more Facebook tracking—and no more tracking in general. This can obviously be seen as a blow to big platforms like Facebook, as it threatens the way that their ad system works.
[6:12] Brad talks about the beginnings of Facebook, saying that it was created to perpetrate on humanity, and is still being used in this way—with our data.
[7:13] Ken quotes someone from Google who said, “People shouldn’t have to give up their privacy to get relevant advertising.” In response, many people don’t recognize the value of relevant ads; in fact most say they don’t want ads at all, even though more relevant ads means a better experience in general.
[8:20] Brad mentions how some platforms have a paid experience where you can get rid of ads. But again, the exchange is your privacy.
[10:52] Bob talks about the voice-activated world that we live in—there are devices listening to us at all times, even if we don’t own devices that have these features. For example, if Siri hears what they think is violence at home, there is permission for Apple to contact 911; this is a concerning precedent, even if it does serve to protect people.
[12:13] Bob continues, saying that often in America and perhaps other countries, we fight for a right to privacy. This goes to a deep level, to who we are as a species. Privacy is the way that we maintain intimacy in relationships, maintain creativity, and engage in our own self-awareness. The fight for continued and increased privacy is a matter of human rights and goes much deeper than just your online information.
[13:57] Brad shares about a client in Romania that he’s worked with for years and years—they’ve talked about the idea of privacy a lot. When 1 of 5 people you contact (in Romania) is a spy for the government, there is a cultural assumption that someone “out there” has all your information. So the idea of privacy rights is very different from America, where we are constantly afraid of who has our data, what “big brother” might be doing with it, etc.
[16:15] Ken agrees, saying that privacy is a basic human need. There is an aspect of violation that happens to people in jail because their privacy is taken away. Lack of privacy means lack of certainty, and lack of certainty means more anxiety and less freedom to live their lives. We’re already seeing this in our culture now (more anxiety and fear surrounding our freedoms and privacy). Over the last 10 years, we’ve slowly given our privacy away to private companies and the repercussions are already happening. We’re lucky here in America in that this change is happening inside of private companies instead of our government.
[18:53] Brad asks, if you’re going to have an ad, wouldn’t you rather see an ad that you’re interested in?
[19:05] Ken responds, saying that great ads can still be created if you don’t have specific targeting information about what someone ate for breakfast. Great ads were created before targeting, and they can continue after targeting; this will require more creative advertising and will take away the foolproof methods that many companies have found.
[19:48] Bob says that Amazon has trained us as marketers to believe that the more microtargeting we can get, the better conversions we can get. But there are businesses that are succeeding without that microtargeting. Great content that tells great stories will always be what makes people purchase.
[21:34] Brad clarifies that this depends on what it is that you’re marketing. If it’s a soft drink, there is a large portion of people who are likely to purchase it. But for things like medications for specific diseases or conditions, the marketing has to be different.
[25:37] Ken: “Right now, people aren’t aware of the value of their information—or even what they’re doing… it’s basically dishonesty inside of selling some of these products.” He says that there are so many ways for data to be collected from so many devices and products, and a lot of people don’t realize what it is that they’re giving away with these things. If you’re not in advertising or marketing, you’re not aware at all with how that works.
[29:29] Ken talks about Apple’s loss of Steve Jobs, and how that change was scary but ultimately at a certain point another person (Tim Cook) has to step in and help scale. When the founder or creator is able to hand the business over to a different skill set, the company has the opportunity to grow and scale on a different level. Facebook seems like it is still in that “founder” stage and hasn’t yet been handed over to someone else for scalability or a fresh set of eyes and skills on the business.
[32:25] Brad says that he is a bit surprised that Facebook hasn’t pivoted yet. The clock is ticking!
[33:53] Bob talks about the enormous pressure and surprise that Facebook’s team must have felt when they went from dorm room hackers to having a global audience and a social media site that is being used to influence the elections of the biggest countries in the world. THAT is a wild transition and it happened virtually overnight. This team that fell into this success is now carrying a moral weight on their shoulders—one that they probably didn’t want and maybe aren’t all that concerned with protecting.
[34:33] Ken says that a big part of what we’re talking about is the degradation of mental health. We have to ask ourselves, what’s the moral obligation to that?
[35:48] Bob is currently working on his master’s degree in behavioral and organizational psychology, and his thesis topic is media trauma. Privacy, anxiety, depression, suicide—these things are all connected.
[37:28] Bob continues, saying that the mental health of specifically young girls is being taught by the public based on likes and the dopamine hits that come with social media, instead of a close group of peers and trusted people that they get their identity and sense of self worth from.
[38:27] Ken says that he often thinks about the ads that he runs on Facebook for Metacake—sometimes there are mean comments, and it genuinely hurts. Even for someone who doesn't use social media personally, it hurts.
[40:40] Brad talks about how this is across our entire culture, that pain and comparison and hurt is happening to everyone on a personal level as well as a professional level.
[42:30] Bob talks about something called vicarious trauma or societal trauma that says that just by being around people who have been traumatized, it can also affect others. Ethically, it only makes sense not to guard against that, to rethink algorithms and privacy issues so that we have a better ethical way of engaging with those things.
[45:07] Ken recalls when people told us not to believe everything we read online. There was a time when you couldn’t use the internet to site resources in papers for school, yet now we have more technology to create stuff that may or may not be true, so everybody believes everything they read.
[49:42] Bob talks about Facebook Australia back in 2014 apologizing for using data about depressed, anxious kids to retarget them and give advertisers information about them. While this is scary and very sad, on the flip side there is opportunity to serve better, more positive and helpful content that could help mitigate some of the effects that we see.
[53:02] Brad talks about screen time, saying that even Steve Jobs put a limit on how much screen time your kids have. “You have to get to a point in your life where you have self-discipline towards screens.”
[56:32] Ken shares his experience with screen time and cutting down on technology. For some people, the addiction to screens is just as bad as an alcohol addiction, in that it takes over your life and eventually becomes a crutch. He recommends a book by Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. Step one of releasing that addictive grip on technology is awareness, which is where we are as a society right now. And the second step is discipline—the discipline to actually replace that screen addiction/habit/routine with things that actually add to our lives.