Attention Advertisers: the medium is the message

Way back in the sixties, the writer and philosopher MarshallMcLuhan became known for the expression “the medium is the message.” Every newcommunication technology has its own particular character, and each affects theway its users think, their social interactions and society in general.

When the Internet, and especially the World Wide Web, camealong, many marketers thought it would be a new kind of TV. But it quicklybecame apparent that it didn’t work that way. Radio and TV demand only passiveattention. The web requires active attention, more analogous to print media,where you have to decide to pick up something and read it.

Print media typically carry what are known as “display ads.”The ads take up part or all of any page. The experience of reading a physicalmagazine or newspaper is that you flip back and forth between pages with littleeffort, and when you are reading an article any ads on the page don’t seem tobe actively trying to grab your attention. You are free to direct yourattention, glancing at ads, reading articles, back and forth as you wish.

The web is different. There aren’t any fixed “pages” assuch, and moving through the material requires much more actively clicking onthings and mentally keeping track of where you are. Display ads, originally inthe form of “banner ads,” don’t just sit there and politely wait for yourattention, they are placed in your visual frame in a way that tries to grab andcapture your attention. They distract from the content you came for, and what’sworse, they feel manipulative. It’s rather like being forced into the samespace with someone else’s annoying undisciplined child.

People don’t like having their attention manipulated – they actively avoid it. Web advertising, what’s become known as “adtech,” has a different character than print advertising. To quote Doc Searls:

“… adtech did not spring from the loins of Madison Avenue. Instead its direct ancestor is what’s called direct response marketing. Before that, it was called direct mail, or junk mail. In metrics, methods and manners, it is little different from its closest relative, spam.”

Doc goes on to say that “direct response marketing hasalways wanted to get personal” and as the public has begun to understand howmuch spying, tracking and malware is involved in adtech, their annoyance isbeginning to turn to outrage. Thus we have GDPR, California’s new CCPA, andmore efforts sure to come. Indeed the UK Information Commissioner recently madeclear that ‘real time bidding’, a process used by much the adtech industry, iscurrently significantly in breach of GDPR. The industry has been given 6 monthsto clean up its act.

Even worse from the business perspective, adtech not onlydelivers steadily diminishing value, in many cases it actually deliversnegative value, damaging the reputation of the brands involved. Doc Searls andDon Marti have had much more to say about that, well worth reading.

The one industry that has grasped how to use the web formarketing in a way that leverages the intrinsic character of the medium isonline dating. No, seriously – online dating is a form of marketing. Thepopulation of people looking for dating partners are a market, and the onlinedating apps are a marketing tool.

Of course, one difference is that dating apps arepeer-to-peer marketing, facilitated by a neutral party. But that’s what makesit perfect for the web. People are in control of their attention, what theywant to see more of, and what they don’t want to be bothered with. And they cancontrol how much they reveal about themselves progressively, as they buildtrust.

Marketers – imagine if you were offering people somethingthey actually felt was fun, instead of annoying and creepy – if your audiencebegan to think of you as useful information services rather than asadversaries. How much more effective could that be?

JLINC is the first online dating app for brands and their customers!

Online "data-ing" for Alice and Bob

How do we accomplish that? First, the JLINC protocol calls for two separate software agents, one representing the interests of the business organization, and the other the interests of the individual person. These agents run on separate servers, which may be operated by distinct entities at different locations on the Internet.

Secondly the agents establish a relationship by mutually(cryptographically) signing an information sharing agreement. This agreementestablishes the confidentiality and fiduciary responsibilities of the companywith regard to any data, which the individual will subsequently share. Theagent for each party keeps a copy of the agreement, and both parties send acopy to external audit ledgers. Individuals are identified only by pseudonymouscryptographic keys.

Once this relationship is established between parties, datamay be sent in either direction accompanied by a signed cryptographic hash ofthe agreement, indicating that the data is being sent under the context of theagreement. Audit records are kept of each data event.

What sort of data? The possibilities are endless, but at thevery least data about the individual’s preferences as to what kind ofcommunications they would like to receive, especially regarding their buyingintentions, existing products and services and renewal dates. The individualcan change their preferences as often as they wish. They have no need torequest what information the company may have on them – they can see it at aglance on the portal display from their own agent. They can correct it asnecessary, or issue GDPR-style “forget me” instructions via their agent, on anypart of their data, or all of it.