Musings from GroupM: Data - Advertisers Should Stop Giving It All Away - Brian Lesser - MediaBizBloggers

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"We just have to drop a pixel."

"No big deal – we just need to add a tag."

How many times have media buyers and their clients heard these statements from the flood of digital marketing service and technology companies promising better optimization, verification, targeting, or analytics?

But buyers beware—when you accept those suggestions you're giving away valuable content and user data. The more partners you allow to tag your pages or pixel your ads, the more you're detracting from the user experience and potentially contributing to your competitors' success. Not to mention the misery you're causing for your advertising operations team and your site administrators.

As audience targeting, ad verification and real-time bidding evolve, more and more companies want to add code to ads or sites. Many of these companies add value, using the data in a limited and ethical fashion. However, others collect data under the pretense of optimizing your campaign and then use the data to optimize their own businesses, sometimes mingling the data with other advertisers or leveraging aggregate data to enhance and improve optimization algorithms.

If you are wondering how many companies are collecting data on your site, try a simple experiment. First, install one of the free pixel monitoring applications such as HTTPWatch (http://www.HttpWatch.com) or Firebug (http://getfirebug.com). Next, browse to your homepage. Do you recognize all of the companies gathering data on your site? If not, it may be time to revisit your pixel management process and strategy. You can start by asking the following questions:

1.What is the vendor doing with the data? Many companies collect data to optimize your advertising. But in collecting your data, they may also be targeting your users for other advertisers. Or, they may be using your conversion data to optimize their own algorithms.

2.What kind of "pixel" are they placing? Some pixels just return an image (an "img src" tag), whereas others can return anything on the page or in the ad (a "javascript src" tag), including images, more javascript or callouts to yet other companies. Be careful you are not sharing more than you want to share.

3.How will the pixel affect the user experience? Too many pixels will slow down the loading of your page or your ads. Ask yourself what's more important—allowing 18 ad networks to collect conversion data, or your user experience?

4.Is there a pixel on the page that can accomplish more than one goal? Partners like the Media Innovation Group have developed technologies that allow an advertiser to share as much or as little data with vendors using one simple pixel.

And here are a few potential strategies for better pixel management:

Categorize marketing partners and determine the purpose of each pixel. Prioritizing and ranking pixels will help you make hard decisions regarding who should and should not have access to your advertising and site.

Fully leverage existing pixels. In many cases you may be providing the same data to multiple parties via separate pixels. There may be an opportunity to consolidate. Also, not every vendor needs real-time access to data. Consider sharing some data asynchronously.

Limit access to your Web site. The placement of a pixel on a Web site should be viewed as the exception rather than the rule. Only the pixels of marketing partners who have proven value to the advertiser should be considered for inclusion as a strategic incentive and to drive performance.

Develop an access approval and auditing process that includes rigorous testing. Verify the content, source and destination of each pixel, and make sure the Web site, and by extension the brand, is not exposed to any unwanted and unnecessary risks. Remember, if you deploy a "javascript src" tag on your site, your partner could swap out code without you knowing about it.

Explore tag management platforms. In spite of the best due diligence and intentions, a practical solution may be to employ an external tag management technology (ZAP, the MIG's advertising platform provides such a solution).

Pixels and ad tags are an important part of the digital marketing ecosystem. They allow advertisers to track performance and share important data with vendors and partners. However, advertisers should develop and deploy data sharing and pixel management strategies to limit 'data leakage,' ensure proper security and maximize the user experience.

Brian Lesser is General Manager of the Media Innovation Group, a unit of GroupM holding company WPP.

Read all Brian's MediaBizBloggers commentaries at Musings from GroupM - MediaBizBloggers.

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