Most online ad experiences still feel like a re-run of last week’s searches and purchases.

We’ve been talking about how advances in digital media and data will result in every person on the web seeing a deeply personalized ad for every occasion since the days of AOL dial-up.

Why, then, do most of our digital ad experiences still feel like a “groundhog day” of what we searched and bought in the previous week? (If you don’t agree, just take a spin around the web and let me know how customized and rewarding your ad experience feels.)

Given the immense amount of personal data at our fingertips, you’d think that by now we’d be communicating elegantly with each customer—precisely when, where, and how they would like to engage with our brands. You’d think, with programmatic buying, that we’d be able to do this and still achieve huge reach.

And you’d think, with AI, powerful ‘identity graphs’ and multi touch attribution (MTA), that it would be easy to execute and measure these sophisticated conversations.

Yet personalization remains mostly a fantasy and right now it’s just not happening between brands and people. It’s time to examine why and to ask ourselves: Is personalization even a good idea in the first place?

Reality check
In trying to achieve one-to-one marketing, we might actually be putting our brands at risk of fragmented messaging, multiple personalities and vapor for brand equity. And even if we actually pull this off, there is a ton of mythology surrounding our ability to successfully execute micro-campaigning at the kind of scale we need to move markets and competitive share.

Often this comes down to simple math. If you target a specific slice of the web population using the powerful segmenting tools at your disposal, you may start with a million prospects. But, for every attribute you apply, you end up slicing that group thinner and thinner. Very quickly, you may find that your sophisticated marketing efforts have led you to a handful of shaving cream enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest.

And we’re not even touching on the grand delusion that MTA can measure it all.

In our experience, working with even the biggest brands, MTA exercises are extremely complicated, expensive, require a crazy amount of work and rarely pay off.

It’s natural for CMOs to want to figure out exactly how every interaction with their brand leads to a purchase over a day, a week, a month and a year—and how much they should be spending on each media touchpoint to deliver that purchase.

But, in terms of practicality, it’s as big a fantasy today as “Game of Thrones”.

And here’s the friction…
Even if it’s possible to execute messaging with such surgical precision, there’s the small matter of whether consumers actually want to connect one-on-one with brands—even the ones they love.

In a YouGov.com survey from March 2018, more than half of adult respondents reported either neutral or negative receptivity towards personalized ads and the influence of such ads on their buying decisions.

We’re at a point where consumers are more savvy, empowered (hello ad blockers) and informed than ever. They are clicking permission check boxes and they are reading about EU fines for Google/Facebook and massive data breaches around the world. We haven’t even begun to solve the privacy issues associated with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, while the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) will soon be upon us in the U.S. Will identity graphs even be legal in the future?

The future is uncertain, but it will be bright
What we’re left with is a whole new world of ad targeting. We think consumers will end up in a place where they have far greater control and transparency around how they are being targeted.

They may even—wait for it-—agree to get paid by brands for their attention.
That may seem a little far-fetched now, but it actually represents a huge opportunity. Imagine a world where consumers actively engage in what they see and don’t see and they are actually “bought” into the relationship? Instead of wasting billions of dollars on unwanted ads, we will invest where ads are relevant and welcomed by those willing to be compensated.

It can’t get more personal than that.

Originally published on Ad Age

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