It would be nice if we had clear distinctions between different breeds within and between advertising and marketing, but we don’t.

One thing we can at least make clear is that some advertising is based on surveillance—tracking people—and some is not. The surveillance-based form of advertising we’re calling adtech. Yes, we can debate that. But the adtech industry (notably the IAB) has worked mightily to justify surveillance, so I’m leveraging that until something better comes along.

For what it’s worth, I was in the advertising business in various ways for most of the last quarter of the last century. For the better part of two decades in that span I was a partner in Hodskins Simone & Searls, one of Silicon Valley’s leading ad and marketing agencies. We had a building in Palo Alto with my name on it.

David Ogilvy was a huge influence on me, and on our agency. I regard Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising as the two most essential works in the advertising canon.

While Ogilvy sang the praises of direct marketing, and especially of the great research-driven copywriters in the business, he would have been appalled at the liberties taken by adtech online today, and the degree to which adtech’s methods have disregarded and diminished the brand value of high-reputation media, have incentivized boundless “content generation”—to such a degree that journalism is now drowning in it—and served as vectors for fraud and malware.

Ogilvy wished for advertising and direct marketing to respect its human targets. Nothing of the sort happens when people are reduced to eyeballs and chased like tracked animals from site to site, where they are thrown the same ads over and over, often for things they just bought. Adtech does that. Plain old brand advertising does not.

If you want to do personalized ads, on a 1:1 basis as you say, fine. Just do it with people who have opted for it, clearly and consciously. Don’t do it with people who never asked for it, and who in large numbers hate it.

If you’re interested in hearing more on this, I suggest checking out the writings of Don Marti (@dmarti) and Bob Hoffman (adcontrarian), both of whom are also industry veterans. And if you want to read more of what I’ve written on the matter, check out my adblock war series.

Written by

Author of The Intention Economy, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Fellow of CITS at UCSB, alumnus Fellow of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.

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