TV Viewers to Madison Avenue: Please quit driving drunk on digital


Today AdAge gives us Clinton and Sanders Using Addressable Advertising in New York Market: Precision Targeting Is Especially Relevant in NYC, Say Political Media Observers, by @LowBrowKate. Here’s how it works:

In order to aim addressable TV spots to those voters, the campaigns provide a list of the individual voters they want to target to Cablevision or satellite providers DirecTV and Dish. That list is matched against each provider’s customer database and ads are served to the matching households. Because voter data includes actual names and addresses, the same information the TV providers have for billing purposes, they readily can match up the lists.

Speaking as a Dish Network customer—and as a sovereign human being—I don’t want to be an “addressable target” of any advertising—and I already feel betrayed.

I don’t care what measurable results “addressable” or “precision” targeting gets for those who practice it. The result that matters is that I’m pissed to know that my provider has sold me out to advertisers putting crosshairs on me and my family. Same goes for other viewers who get creeped out when they see that an ad on TV is just for them and not for everybody watching the show.

It should be obvious by now that people hate being tracked like animals and shot with digital blow-guns by advertisers. The feedback has been loud and clear.

First the market responded with Do Not Track, which the ad industry mocked and ignored. Then the market installed ad blockers and tracking protection in numbers massive enough to comprise the largest boycott in human history. (More than 200 million doing ad blocking alone, by last June.) Again, the industry didn’t listen, and instead went to war with its own consumers and mocked the their choice as a “fad.”

Here is a fact: people value their privacy, safety and time infinitely more than whatever they might get from commercial messages packed around the content they actually demand.

Here is another: anonymity is a form of privacy. One of the graces of watching TV is being anonymous, as both a private individual and part of a crowd.

Advertising respected both those facts before it got body-snatched by direct marketing. Now is the time to respect the difference again, and separate the wheat of respectful advertising from the chaff of disrespectful “addressable targeting” and other junk mail methods that were alien to Madison Avenue before it got drunk on “digital.”

Make no mistake: addressable targeting is disrespectful to both its targets and the very media respectful advertising has supported for the duration. For a gut-check on that, ask if anybody wants it. Make it opt-in. Don’t just take advantage of whatever data collection has been done, surely without express permission from individual customers.

Here is another fact the industry needs to face: people have tools for safeguarding their privacy now, and they’ll get more, whether the industry likes it or not. In fact, the more precisely advertising invades and violates people’s personal spaces, the faster people will acquire the protections they need.

What’s at stake now for the industry is the survival of whatever remains of advertising’s value as a contribution to business and culture. The only reason the industry can’t see that fact, which ought to be obvious, is that it’s driving drunk on digital kool-aid.

Time to sober up.

Bonus reading: Bob Hoffman, Don Marti, Jason Kint, Dave Carroll, yours truly.

Bonus opportunity to participate in moving from blocking all advertising to welcoming the respectful kind: VRM Day and IIW, the week after next, at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.

The original draft of this post was my comment under the AdAge piece.


  1. John Conaghan’s avatar

    Excellent post Doc

  2. Citizen’s avatar

    Hey Doc, great post, 100% on point as usual.

    But … rather than linking to Google search results, why not use one of the excellent new search engines that don’t track, target and trap you in a filter bubble as their business model?

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hmm. Okay. Lemme look through these.

    DuckDuckGo gives me unwanted cruft (either placed ads or unwanted SEO’s results) atop the wanted organic results. Though it does have a nice simple search URL. Where the Google’s in this case is, DuckDuckGo’s is (In both the Google and DuckDuckGo cases I need to strip off the jive appended to the actual search URL. But that’s easy to do.)

    I run into several problems with Disconnect, much as I like them as a company and a VRM pioneer. First is that their Web search is subordinated to their app download promo on the page you link to. Also that it immediately asks me for money while thanking me for downloading and installing the app, which is actually an add-on, even though the download and install don’t work, at least this time, on Firefox, my main browser. When I try and succeeded in Chrome, it gives me an extension that puts a Disconnect thingie in the browser chrome that does exactly what preferring DuckDuckGo does if I make it my preferred search engine. In Safari it downloads something called “search.safariextz,” which first lands in the Downloads folder and then, by Apple’s extra-steps methods, installs a thingie in the chrome like the one in Chrome, and also supplies a shortcut to a DuckDuckGo search. Way too complicated. Worst of all, a search for “adblock war” yields this URL: . Not what I want.

    StartPage is a white label Google search that gathers up Google’s ads and puts them behind a kind of banner the top and the bottom of the results page. Which is fine, but alas, it doesn’t give me a copy-and-paste-able URL for a search. Just “”. No good.

    So, if what you want is a search URL, the best choices are Google, DuckDuckGo and Bing, which by the way yields exactly the same results as DuckDuckGo, without any appended jive: I suppose that’s because DuckDuckGo is a white label for Bing. So is Yahoo search, by the way. The difference is that Yahoo produces a useless all-tracking crufty url:;_ylc=X3oDMTFiN25laTRvBF9TAzIwMjM1MzgwNzUEaXRjAzEEc2VjA3NyY2hfcWEEc2xrA3NyY2h3ZWI-?p=adblock+war&fr=yfp-t-201&fp=1&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&search_plus_one=form

    What I want with the “adblock war” search is to show the degree to which it’s a thing. What Google and StartPage give me is a good view of that. What Bing and its derivatives give me is Advertising/SEO over a top search result that is something of my own: Doesn’t make the point as well, at least in this one case.

    Interesting exercise. Thanks for prompting it!

  4. Citizen’s avatar

    You’re welcome! Due to anti-cruft measures I now take for granted (add-on for URL cleanup + turned off ads via advanced settings) I find DuckDuckGo a good balance of looks, performance and privacy. Did not know about the Bing thing tho, thanks for spotting, will dig deeper on that; they should be more upfront about it, and I’d guess that’s why they don’t give more stats with results. My fave feature of DDG is actually “bangs”, which are shortcuts to popular sites, e.g. if you enter “!w doc searls” you’ll be taken directly to your wikipedia entry, !a is for amazon, etc.

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