Steal this advertising playbook

Advanced advertising and marketing solutions, such as interactive and behaviorally-targeted advertising, may represent a large part of the future of content and service personalization for the broadband, TV and mobile sectors of the telecom industry. But, as service providers move closer to providing these sometimes controversial and misunderstood offerings, there is a sense that each service provider is finding its own way and playing by its own rules-or perhaps even waiting for someone else to stumble so they know what not to do.

The checkered past of targeted advertising trials deserves much of the blame for that perception. In some cases, users who were affected by such trials were not informed first, or at least it was not clear to them that they had been informed or that they had options about participating or not. Users also might be somewhat leery of the benefits of advanced advertising, simply because they don't understand to what degree their personal information is being leveraged.

As service providers and their vendors continue to move ahead with these capabilities, they now individually say all the right things about how the nature of advanced advertising and marketing programs needs to be communicated clearly to users, and that customers need a clear opportunity to opt-in rather than being told in fine print that they need to opt out. Still, how much information is communicated and in what way might vary from one service provider to the next. What the telecom industry might need most is a unified effort to create best practices and protocols for how such advertising programs are introduced, and how customer profile information and usage behavior gets applied to these solutions.

That's exactly the sort of effort that the Mobile Marketing Association has led in the mobile industry, getting the four largest U.S. wireless service providers to agree recently to the MMA's set of best practices for mobile marketing. As MMA President and CEO Mike Wehrs explained during a recent FierceMarkets executive breakfast at CTIA Wireless 2009 in Las Vegas, the MMA essentially has worked with mobile carriers to open their own "carrier playbook" codes of conduct, in the interests contributing to a unified document now being created by the MMA.

The mobile industry may be coming to its own conclusions about what needs to be done in the aftermath of controversial targeted ad programs by wireline ISPs, but is not clear that wireline ISPs or TV service providers, the other two groups that have much to gain from advanced advertising, are making the same sort of effort. They should know by now that if they don't take those steps on their own, they are leaving the door open for another party, such as federal legislators, to do it for them.

-Dan

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