By  on March 17, 2010

LONDON — Online advertisers need to empower consumers and get them to take the lead in deciding if they want their data to be made available to the brands, according to digital marketing executives.

During a forum at the Financial times’ Digital Media and broadcasting conference on the future of online advertising, executives from Facebook, omnicom Digital, the U.k. television channel itV’s digital arm, and Vivaki, a company created by the Publicis group to leverage its digital and media operations, discussed how to match advertising to consumers without invading their privacy, and retaining the “likeability and emotion,” of brands.

“the [Facebook] user is at the forefront of everything we do,” said stephen haines, U.k. commercial director of Facebook. “banner ads are not the right way [for companies] to have a dialogue with the user. We prefer engagement advertising, which is similar to how Facebook users would engage with friends.”

haines cited a recent campaign that british potato chip company Walkers ran on the site, asking users to invent a new flavor for the firm, which later went into production. however, haines conceded that Facebook’s now-defunct program beacon, which posted information about Facebook users’ online purchases on their personal pages, and drew much criticism in the process, was misjudged. “anyone who pushes the boundaries of innovation will make the odd misstep,” he said.

russell buckley, vice president of global alliances at admob, a mobile advertising and solutions network, said targeting advertising at consumers often leaves industry executives with a dilemma. “if you ask consumers ‘Do you want advertising made relevant to you?’ the answer is ‘Yes,’ but what data consumers are prepared to exchange to make that possible is an issue the industry has to tackle,” he said. however, rishad tobaccowala, a member of Vivaki’s management board, suggested fears about consumers’ data being stored for long periods of time are overestimated. “the half life of data is minutes,” said tobaccowala. “google won’t see everything.…i don’t believe there will be one horrible dominant company [that stores data].”

he also pointed out credit card companies have access to more information about consumers’ buying habits than search engines.

Meanwhile, shaun gregory, managing director for media at 02, the U.k. mobile communication company that’s part of the telefonica group, said when customers are asked, they’re often happy to share data. gregory said 73 percent of 02’s customers opted to supply their data so they could be targeted with relevant advertising.

“We’re putting the customer in control of their data,” said gregory, adding he believes mobile devices “will become the remote control of your life,” with online transactions increasingly happening via mobile phones. “We’ll build out from what’s right for the customer,” he said.

Jonathan Nelson, chief executive officer at omnicom Digital, echoed this customer-centric view. “it’s about getting the right message to the right person at the right time,” he said.

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