The challenge of compliance-compatible digital marketing strategy


3 min read

Posted by Fergal McHugh on March 11, 2021

The challenge of compliance-compatible digital marketing strategy

We are arriving at a crossroads with respect to regulation and digital marketing. It should be clear by now to anyone who works in digital marketing (and digital communications more broadly) that regulation will play an increasing role in their lives. It seems to me there are two responses to this situation, one useful, the other not.

I will start with the wrong kind of response: ignoring the challenge. This response is not feasible. If we take a look at one of the key drivers for regulation it is the use of personal data. Scrutiny on the use of personal information and “special category” information for communication and marketing purposes is only going to increase.

It is important to take note of just how important personal data is for digital marketing practice today. Digital marketing is now firmly embedded in what I call the “behavioral paradigm”. As any marketer knows, successful marketing requires relevant messaging, to the right person, at the right place, and at the right time. The behavioral approach achieves this through collecting significant amounts of information on user behavior, stitching it together into models and then drawing inferences from those models about the right signals to send users. Virtually all digital marketing activities rely in some manner on the processing of behavioral information (a great deal of which involved personal and special category data). The challenge for marketers is to think about how relevance can still be achieved as part of an approach which is compatible with current regulation, and flexible enough to respond to future regulation.

So, this takes us to the right kind of response which is compliance-compatible digital marketing strategy. There is no doubt that compliance-compatible strategy is and will continue to be challenging. Marketers are experiencing increasing pressure from both regulators and users to adjust their current practices. And we are also witnessing some quite radical changes within the broader digital space which are going to have enormous impact on the future shape of digital marketing.

The so-called “Cookie Apocalypse” is one of the better known and more important shifts taking place. This is an event driven not just by regulators and privacy actives, but also by the industry more broadly, platform and browsers, evolving their models in an attempt to keep ahead of both regulation and user expectation. The phase-out of 3rd party cookies by the browsers is a key example of this.

But there are other changes taking place. In particular the Ad Tech space is likely to experience a rather dramatic overhaul. Here regulatory challenges are combining with a growing tide of user and advertiser dissatisfaction to pressure Ad Tech on a range of fronts. Users are increasingly turning to Ad blockers in order to manage disruption and the poor user experience that digital advertising often produces. And advertisers are increasingly concerned about both the transparency, and efficacity of an increasingly complicated industry.

In addition to this Ad tech players do not appear to be sufficiently prepared for the impact regulation is having and will continue to have on the effectiveness of their services. This in turn increases advertiser concern.

There are programs in place tasked with addressing/replacing the tracking capabilities that cookies deliver. These include IAB’s Rearc and Google’s privacy sandbox. As more becomes known it digital marketers will be closely examining how they can leverage post-cookie approaches. But compliance-compatible digital strategy should not be merely be reactive. Marketers should also be looking at solutions that lie outside the behavioral paradigm. We should be asking questions if there are other ways to achieve relevance without taking on the risk of processing large amounts of personal and special category data.

One potentially promising area is next-generation Semantic-Contextual Advertising. This kind of technology relies on AI to deliver rich semantic analysis of a publisher’s content in order to determine ad display relevance. It does so without any tracking and profiling. And it can be combined with appropriate identification strategies as users move down the funnel. In taking up the challenge of compliance-compatible digital marketing strategy marketers need to be looking outside the behavioral paradigm, and beyond the marketer-vs-regulator status quo toward new opportunities which benefit businesses, users and society more broadly.

We recently participated in a webinar with OneTrust about this. Watch the video below:

If you’re interested in discussing this challenge in relation to your sector, get in touch today.

About the Author

Fergal McHugh
Fergal McHugh

Fergal McHugh is Head of Strategy at Arekibo. He is responsible for overseeing Arekibo’s innovation and growth strategies.