Privacy pressures spark industry association war of words in U.S.

With calls for greater consumer privacy protection growing, and lawmakers around the world looking at ways to respond, pressure is growing on the ad industry which has become so dependent on data-driven targeting.

That pressure has led to an unusual public blow-up involving three of the largest and most powerful industry associations in the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies took the unusual step of issuing a strongly worded statement criticizing David Cohen, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, for a speech he gave last week at the organization’s annual leadership meeting.

In his speech, Cohen said there are “extremists” who now want to “cripple the advertising industry and eliminate it from the American economy and culture.” He called out senators Amy Klobuchar and Ted Cruz, and FTC chair Lina Khan, by name, and was also harshly critical of Apple for its privacy enhancing actions that make it harder for advertisers to reach Apple users: “While there are no shortage of extremists attacking our industry from the outside, there are some attacking it from the inside out,” he said. “Most notably, Apple exemplifies the cynicism and hypocrisy that underpins the prevailing extremist view.”

The ANA and 4As responded by accusing Cohen of using “polarizing political rhetoric,” and said they “reject the acerbic tone, texture, and prescriptions offered by the IAB.”

They suggest that while the industry is “out of balance,” they want a “foundation of responsible marketing” and can achieve that through self-regulation if the industry works together to find balanced solutions that work for all constituents, including, “most importantly, consumers.”

They said that the IAB’s posture as articulated by Cohen does not represent balance. “It appears to be a tirade against the forces that disagree with our industry,” reads the statement. “Let’s be honest. Our industry is far from perfect. Many of the problems that the IAB cited were because of an imbalanced industry that we all created and supported with our advertising investments.

“Did we ever utter the issues of “brand safety” or “digital ad fraud” ten years ago? Of course not. But it is time for our industry to clean up its messes and present a far more responsible approach to address the issues that are prevalent in our industry.”

IAB Canada president Sonia Carreno said she was “taken aback” by the rebuke from ANA and 4As. “Given that our industry is facing so many challenges at this time, I would hope that we could refrain from having trade associations making joint statements against one another in public,” she said.

“If the intent was to provide constructive criticism or communicate a difference of opinion, all valid and welcome in a robust ecosystem, then I would suggest that those conversations, when coming from a genuine place of collaboration, are best kept inside the tent.”

Here in Canada, she said the IAB remains deeply involved in privacy discussions with the industry and at the government level. “To help support the industry, we’ve recently launched an open-sourced framework—TCF Canada, that allows [consent management platforms] to capture the appropriate consent from consumers and then communicate that consent into the supply chain,” she said.

“Meanwhile, we continue to support cross-industry initiatives in Canada and internationally. We believe that the industry must stay in lockstep and work together to build scaled, borderless solutions, because privacy is bigger than us.”

Cohen responded to the ANA and 4As later on Tuesday, telling MarketingDive in a statement that he did not mean for his speech to be divisive, but instead a rallying cry for the industry.

“We have deep respect for Congress and appreciate all the work going towards national privacy reform,” he said. “However, we need to recognize that there is a perception issue that we need to overcome. The negativity around the technology sector fueled by select viewpoints has the potential to adversely impact us all.”

And in interview with MarketingBrew, he said a “more moderate approach—a strategic, sound approach—is probably warranted.” However, he also said that “If you’re in a battle with bazookas, you want a bazooka. You want to be able to meet the conversation where it sits. And I do think there was an element of that.”

David Brown