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It’s mid-morning at the Ad:Tech conference in Manhattan and it seems that the presidential election has distracted attendees from the usual…

imageIt’s mid-morning at the Ad:Tech conference in Manhattan and it seems that the presidential election has distracted attendees from the usual business. “How are we supposed to concentrate on the conference?” said one speaker getting ready for a panel appearance. But in the main ballroom, Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, sought to rally his constituency on the dangers coming to the industry no matter which candidate ultimately takes up residence in the White House. Moderating a panel on the state of the industry, Rothenberg asked four media and ad execs how they gauged the regulatory battles that have been gaining steam since last year over issues like behavioral targeting.

More on self-regulation and other topics after the jump

Transparency is the key: Dave Morris, chief client officer of CBS (NYSE: CBS) Interactive: “I knew this question was coming so I asked Quincy Smith, president and CEO of CBS Interactive and CNET] what our policy is. CNET’s approach has been if we are upfront with consumers and explain what we collect and what we do with it, then everyone will be fine with that. I’m not too worried about regulation. I think the FCC is concerned with targeting users under 13, or sensitive things like health or finance. We have to be careful we don’t cross the line. It is not for free. this is valuable content. We can and must self-regulate. But it we are regulated out of targeted ads, that will be a big problem for us.”

Return to business as usual?: Rothenberg pointed to state legislatures in New York, Connecticut and other states who are at various stages of crafting and debating bills designed to curtail the use of behavioral targeting. How dangerous is that? Or will that return us to business as it used to be and we’ll go on?

Self-reg works (for ad industry, at least): After Rob Master, media director for packaged goods bellwether Unilever U.S., said he’ll “pull a Palin and not answer that question,” Rothenberg turned to his media agency head, Rob Norman, CEO of WPP’s GroupM Interaction: “The ad business is a very well self-regulated industry, as opposed to what goes on downtown [on Wall St.]. But the parts of the value chain are not perfectly aligned, from vendors to agencies to clients. Looking at it through the prism of selling stuff, whatever is going to give me the marginal advantage in selling Rob’s deodorant is important. That said, if targeted ads were to disappear tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a crisis, at least for the packaged goods category. Those marketers have bigger problems to manage online.” Asked what would constitute a crisis, Norman pointed to the packaging of media online. “I would much prefer that remnant was reallocated to help advertisers build richer campaigns. But the biggest challenge is clutter and divided attention. I would rather have that cleaned up above all else.”

Self-reg is crucial: Tina Sharkey, chairman and global president of BabyCenter: This is something that active professionals have responsibility to monitor ourselves and fight against outside regulation.

Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration

  1. Here's the problem – the industry has done a half-assed job of self-regulating. They have annoyed and intruded upon consumers to such a degree that more and more people are signing up for ad blockers. IT professionals routinely advise people to install blockers (such as Norton), because online ads are dangerous.

    Yeah, right – "self regulation". I have yet to see a marketer with an ounce of self-restraint.

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