Google’s Great Advertising Whitelist Whale

Portrait of Todd Garland
by Todd Garland
Oct 3, 2016

Google has announced that it will release a suite of tools aimed at streamlining, and ultimately bettering, its cross-device targeting offerings. What that means for consumers is that the company will now track customers across devices. When the retargeting tools get paired with the company’s location tools, it’s now possible to track customers in a shop (while they’re carrying their phone) and then target customers with advertisements on the web, tablet, phone, and computer.

Brands can now tell a harmonious “story” across technologies, and customers can now see consistent, relevant marketing material from brands purchasing advertisements through Google’s new system.

It’s an interesting approach to retargeting, but what’s even more interesting is how Google has decided to roll the features out online. Google has decided to make the feature opt-in instead of opt-out (according to AdExchanger). Consumers must voluntarily enable these retargeting features before brands can target them across devices. That’s a big data privacy win and an even more significant paradigm shift for Google.

Curious Timing, Though…

The move by Google may not be that surprising for anyone monitoring the WhatsApp situation in Germany, where the government has forbidden Facebook from collecting information about WhatsApp users – a company Facebook purchased for 22-billion dollars. Governments are waking up to the value of data and the problematic situation that the sale of data creates for its citizens.

Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg data protection commissioner, [went on the record], and implicitly advocated for an opt-in solution to the problem, "It has to be [the user’s]decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook … Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened.

Facebook has been instructed to delete the data by the German data protection commissioner.

With that case unfolding at the exact moment Google made its latest announcement about its cross-device retargeting update, one can conclude – rather safely – that Google was looking to side-step the controversy by making its update opt-in by default.

The thing is, though, that making the feature opt-in has some tremendous benefits that few people rarely talk about these days. The benefits of an opt-in system get passed to consumers, as well as both publishers and advertisers.

Cleaning Out The Supply Lines Means More Money

There are two tales to every store. In this case, the first tale is that Google’s waking up to the fact that not all of its users are valuable to marketers; the second tale is of equal significance, marketers realize that there’s no value in retargeting customers who have a passionate disinterest in advertising. How can we clean up the customer supply lines, while increasing profits at the same time? We can start building an advertising whitelist and then focus efforts on targeting only those customers.

Everyone is talking about the value of targeting and customer data, but no one is talking about how data continuously shows that ad block users have no interest in interacting with advertisements. Google’s finally using that information to do the smartest thing it can: eliminate part of its supply line and stop the dilution of inventory. The only thing a diluted inventory pool does is decrease the value of advertising.

Google is using opt-in technology to its advantage.

By cleaning out its supply line, Google is creating an audience that’s not only receptive to a brand’s retargeting efforts, but they’re also making it possible to market directly to people who are also interested in engaging with brands about their products. By forcing customers to opt-in, Google is creating an advertising whitelist for its advertisers. The whitelist is extremely valuable, both for Google and its publishing partners. Heck, the party that may see the biggest benefit from this advertising whitelist is performance-based advertisers.

The Google whitelist ultimately means guaranteed interest from customers (and a massive decrease in bot/fraud inventory) and likely a drastic increase in campaign performance right out of the gate for Google’s new retargeting features.

With consumer trust so low across the industry, it’s fantastic to see an advertising behemoth like Google taking consumer concern seriously and embracing the challenge of bringing advertising back to respectability.

Opt-in advertising is a very large part of this industry’s future. I hope we see more of it, and soon.

Controlling Its Fate: Google Can Change The Industry If It Plays Its Cards Right

The opt-in move isn’t just about building a whitelist for advertisers; it’s also about wrestling control back from ad blockers.

Privacy and data enthusiasts have been talking about the benefits of voluntary opt-in (and double opt-in) systems over automatic inclusion systems for years. Opt-in lists not only outperform the alternatives, but the system also alleviates the stress on everyone else who has no interest in being targeted on the internet. Until recently, Google (and just about everybody else) has been ignoring people who are unhappy with advertising online. The results of those practices have been rather obvious: there was a considerable increase in ad blocker adoption, and there has been an even bigger decrease in enthusiasm for advertising online.

By moving to an opt-in system, Google can remove the need for third-party opt-out tools like ad blockers and content filters. It may not have been an original goal of the program, but by making people opt-in to advertising, Google’s rebuilding its relationship with its users. The company is controlling its own fate and changing the conversation surrounding advertising. If this approach can be adopted at scale, and considering the news in Germany about WhatsApp it might be possible, advertising on the internet could soon be in a far better place than it was last year.

We may not know for a while just how many people are choosing to opt-in to Google’s retargeting system. But, what we do know is that Google is taking steps to control its own future as well as rebuilding ad tech in a better, forward-thinking way.

That’s something we should all be applauding.