Facebook and the Future of Advertising

Doc Searls was right fifteen years ago. Markets are now conversations. Publishers and advertisers can no longer collude without the omnipresence on the scene of the customer. The customer is now in control, although publishers and advertisers still don’t want to realize this.

This is online advertising’s #MeToo moment, the moment when the insatiable hunger for more data will encounter the resistance of consumers who are increasingly voting with their wallets.

And marketers are beginning to realize this. Publishers ought to as well.

If you think anything is going to be the same in online advertising after Cambridge Analytica, you’re dead wrong. This is even bigger than GDPR. especially because #SESTA also passed yesterday, making platforms responsible for what is published on them and invalidating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which had protected them up until now.

The first advertiser to publicly defect from Facebook after Mark Zuckerberg‘s appearance on CNN last night was the Mozilla foundation. Mozilla is not a big advertiser but because it is a foundation and not a for-profit corporation it may have greater ethical responsibilities than many other for-profit marketers. It also really doesn’t need Facebook the way other marketers do.

But its defection drives home a number of interesting points. First, Facebook is a publisher. It doesn’t matter who generates the content, the content is published on Facebook.

Second, as a publisher, it has been remarkably exempt from the economic problems of other publishers because of its enormous scale and targeting capabilities. Hiding behind user-generated content won’t fly after #SESTA,

Now Facebook and its advertisers will have to face the same music all publishers will face with the coming of GDPR.

In general, the public has been more sanguine about political advertising than about consumer advertising, but that may be about to change. Some consumers would probably much prefer their data be used by P&G or Unilever than by Russia.

And besides, it isn’t the advertising, it’s the tracking. In consumer advertising, no one cares if a Mercedes Benz driving down a mountain road floats by on the TV, because we can all leave the room for a beer. But they care if that now ubiquitous pair of shoes follows them around the internet. What advertisers don’t seem to realize as they ask for more and more data, is that consumers hate tracking more than ads.

And that’s because even the most sanguine and least informed person on the internet knows that tracking requires the use of personally identifiable data that they have probably given freely in exchange for some convenience, or the ability to read some article, that is now being misused.

And it’s important how Facebook handles this, because otherwise it will just go away. For example, in response to issues around discriminatory targeting, Facebook recently turned off the ability to target by sexual preference. But they did it without consulting the LBGT community, and now groups that run suicide hotlines for gay teens cannot communicate with those teens to save their lives.

Facebook must learn to face the bigger questions surrounding the pile of data it collects. The answer might not be to collect less data. It might be to undertake a more careful study of how collected data can be used.

Mark Zuckerberg’s incredible discomfort last night on CNN was proof that he knows how important this is. After all, he doesn’t just have to deal with American elections and Cambridge Analytica, he must deal with global issues — elections in India, Brazil, and other places where the government could just turn off Facebook altogether.

It’s the trifecta for Zuck this week: GDPR, SESTA, and Cambridge Analytica. No wonder he looked more like an acne-ridden teenager caught in a prank by the principal than a global CEO .