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Marketing industry is in danger of “eating itself to death” says Microsoft’s Europe VP

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By Jessica Davies, News Editor

March 20, 2013 | 4 min read

The marketing industry must “take responsibility” and avoid bombarding consumers with commercial messages or risk “consumer revolt”, according to Microsoft’s VP of Europe Andy Hart.

Speaking to The Drum at Ad Week Europe in London today, Hart said the marketing industry is in danger of “eating itself to death” if it fails to recognise the urgent need to cap the volume of commercial messages being delivered, driven by the rise in mobile technological advancement and device penetration.

“It's not like traditional media like TV which is regulated and restricted to a certain number of slots so as to not overburden consumers. With the rise of mobiles, phablets, tablets, slablets – all these different kinds of hybrids - we just assume as an industry that it’s ok to just put ads on all of them – but there needs to be a balance restriction. There is currently an imbalance and I’m worried we will try and over-commercialise all these exposures.

“We are training consumers as an industry to avoid ads. This isn’t something we have necessarily seen in the statistics but I’m worried that is where we are going and we need to take some responsibility,” he said.

Ensuring ads are less frequent will also aid creativity, according to Hart. “Since when has it been ok to call a 0.064 per cent click-through rate (CTR) a success for a campaign? Although this a blunt measurement and not the only one – all I know is 0.064 per cent shows something is wrong – whether it be the format, positioning or the creative,” he said.

“Yes you need to be at scale but it’s not just about banners, buttons and frequency and attribution models. As we go forward we need to understand context on top of targeting insight and intent. As we are starting to interfere and interrupt every moment of consumers’ lives – we must take responsibility – and pick up on whether they leaning in or leaning out of the mobile experience – if they are leaning in then there are opportunities around engaging ad creative, but if they leaning out they will not want to be interrupted by ads.”

He also said it is important to educate consumers on how and why their data is being used to ensure they do not feel bombarded. “Search engines keep the privacy restrictions so tight because consumers tell them their deepest secrets,” said Hart.

The result is that there are huge amounts of data that can be pieced together to understand and predict how people will behave. To ensure this does not become “creepy” there is a steep education process needed to ensure that, if a consumer is sent a highly targeted, contextually relevant and intent-based ad they are not alarmed, according to Hart. “We need to bring consumers with us and show them there is a positive value exchange,” he added.

Microsoft is leading the charge in this “call to arms” with its “Invitational Marketing” initiative, according to Hart. This ad restriction policy, unveiled yesterday at Ad Week Europe, is aimed at limiting the number and type of ads served through restrictions on its web browser.

A big part of its move to protect consumer privacy began when it deployed its Do Not Track initiative, its default cookie setting on its Internet Explorer 10 browser.

This move, on the back of Google’s move to integrate Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to natural search, which encrypts the keyword referrals made from a natural search, alongside Mozilla’s default encryption on Firefox, has triggered alarm among media agencies and brands which are having to adjust strategies to accommodate the subsequent loss of keyword referral data.

Hart admitted mistakes were made when it came to communicating its plans around its Do Not Track policy to the marketing industry. “Our communication with the advertising industry should have been better and we apologise for that,” he said.

However, the overall aim of the initiative is to ensure consumers are in better control of their privacy and ad experience. Hart believes the days in which publishers and brands were in complete control of what and how content reached consumers are fast receding, paving the way for an era in which mobile devices have put consumers firmly in control of their brand experiences.

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