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Don't Panic: Talking the ticks and crosses of GDPR with the influencers who know

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As a companion piece to my Creative Opinions feature on GDPR, which comes into effect today (May 25th 2018) across the EU, I interviewed a number of influencers on the new law.

The General Data Protection Regulation represents the greatest shake up in data privacy laws since data privacy laws became a thing we actually needed to care about and it's a very complex topic that can be approached from any number of angles. As such, you'll still find a certain degree of uncertainty in the interviews below, but also a fair amount of cautious optimism to help the medicine go down.

So, if you've your fill of those desperate emails from every company under the sun asking if you want to "stay in touch," but still want to understand why GDPR is such a big deal and how some of the most respected names in the creative industries hope to weather the storm (and come out stronger on the other side), read on.

 

Ari Levenfeld, Chief Privacy Officer at Sizmek

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Do you believe, personally and professionally, that GDPR will be a good or a bad thing for the industry?

At its core, the GDPR is a law aimed at harmonising data protection rules in all EU markets, and promoting accountability and transparency from companies that process the personal data of EU residents. This is ultimately an essential and positive move forward. Sizmek agrees with and supports all of these goals, which are important for people’s fundamental human rights. However, compliance with the GDPR is complex, and in some cases there are many ways in which companies may interpret or comply with the Regulation. In my experience, I believe that the majority of organisations have not done enough to become compliant by 25 May. Regulators have published several opinions on various aspects of the new law, but there is not yet complete agreement. As a result, there could be a disruption or even reduction in the free digital content and services which have become central, and even essential to our lives.

Is there a lot of scaremongering being made over nothing? Or is the noise warranted?

There has been much scaremongering regarding the GDPR, with many industry voices saying it could result in targeted ads being removed and hinder the function of programmatic advertising altogether. However, brands and advertisers shouldn’t see the GDPR as a threat to the industry, but as an opportunity instead. The GDPR provides consumers, publishers and ad tech companies with transparency and control over what’s happening on websites and apps where people access free information and services that are usually supported by advertising. Having said this, organisations that do not comply with the law face severe financial penalties. These can be up to 20 million euros or 4% of annual turnover - whichever is higher. For this reason, the noise in the market around fines is warranted and it’s important that any organisation collecting or processing consumer data is aware of their responsibilities under the law.

Do you feel it will challenge or change the industry in any quantifiable way? If so, how?

There is still a lot of uncertainty about the way the GDPR will change the industry. What I am quite certain of is that there will be less third party data available to publishers and advertisers. Many companies will be relying on consent to process personal data, and consent from users will be reduced. Programmatic advertising uses many different sources of data and its success lies in being able to take that data and use it intelligently to deliver relevant, personalised ads to a brand’s target audience. So it’s inevitable we will see major changes to our industry. I also expect the way the internet is used and viewed - largely for free - will change drastically. In a world in which advertising often funds a website, publishers may have to find alternative ways to obtain revenue and continue operating, or stop operating all together.

How will GDPR affect the creativity of the industry and the individuals working within it?

The GDPR has forced companies that normally compete with one another, or operate on opposite ends of the business to cooperate and craft creative ways to operate in a post-GDPR world. This is evident with IAB Europe’s Transparency and Consent Framework. For almost a year and a half IAB Europe in partnership with different organisations and member companies have collaborated to produce the Transparency and Consent Framework. This Framework is designed to provide web and app publishers along with the technology companies that support them with a means of establishing or conveying a legal basis to process personal data of EU residents, in accordance with the GDPR.

How will brands be affected? Do you think they are prepared for what’s coming? How adaptable will they need to be?

The vast majority of businesses are not prepared for what’s coming. Brands must find ways to reach their audiences with a reduced amount of third party data and operate in an environment where strict laws on data collection and processing apply. How marketers have prepared for the GDPR deadline partially depends on whether the company has historically chosen to focus on privacy by design, so that they are not starting from scratch with their compliance. Preparing for the GDPR requires efforts in literally every department of the company, and is not simply a policy challenge to be addressed.

The general consensus is that GDPR allows brands to put consumers first, but are there any ways in which it will also benefit brands?

Although brands may find the amount of data they have available on consumers is diminished under the GDPR laws, they might find the data they do have is of a better quality. When requesting opt-in consent from a consumer, brands can be more certain they will be engaged with the content they product or send to them. In addition, compliance with the GDPR gives brands an opportunity to demonstrate that they care about consumer privacy. By adhering to the new legislation, brands can show they share the values of their consumers and take an active interest in their privacy. Under the GDPR, brands will also discover the value in their first party data. By analysing the information or data based on their own customers, organisations can create more accurate and effective experiences. Which will ensure they can build more meaningful relationships with consumers in the long run.

Will GDPR hamper advertising campaigns because agencies will be more limited by what data they are allowed to buy? Or do you think they’ll just get more creative?

One solution for advertisers and agencies that operate in a world with less third party data is contextual targeting. The new law covers personal data, which includes pseudonymous identifiers like cookie IDs and IP addresses. If a company has not prepared and does not have a legal basis to process personal data, they'll need to rely on other sources to run their digital marketing campaigns. Contextual targeting, which Sizmek provides via Peer39, relies on page-level data and not personal data. As a result, it's a much more GDPR-friendly option for marketers to rely on.

 

Jason Sullock, Marketing Manager at Washington Direct Mail

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On balance, do you believe, personally and professionally, that GDPR will be a good or a bad thing for the industry?

From a personal point of view, GDPR is great. The amount of emails everyone gets on a daily basis these days is quite simply staggering. Nobody likes it! So, in the past few weeks, I’ve lost count of the number of emails I’ve received asking me in one form or other “Please opt in” and I’m thinking “Not a chance! Now’s my opportunity to get rid of all those pesky irritations that I didn’t want or couldn’t be bothered to unsubscribe from.” Result!

I can see that GDPR is going to ‘thin out’ all the shysters… the ones that break all the rules and give all the hard working, legit marketing professionals a bad name. That’s got to be good for both the customer and our industry!

Couple this with the fact that the area I work in… direct mail marketing… remains an opt-out media where consent is not required, and I have to say that GDPR could represent a real opportunity for our clients who seize the day by creating highly personalised digitally printed campaigns… they’ll have an immense impact in the near future because there’ll be so much less competition.

Is there a lot of scaremongering being made over nothing? Or is the noise warranted?

Hhm… some of the noise is warranted I think. This is serious. The potential result of getting it wrong, being prosecuted and being fined, will be enough in some cases to close businesses down. It’s that simple. It’s even worse in some ways because GDPR is not completely black and white. There are areas of grey that have not been tested in Law yet, and we simply have no idea how these will pan out until they have been through the courts. That’s making people jittery.

Do you feel it will challenge or change the industry in any quantifiable way? If so, how?

Yes and no… there will always be the need for the creative industry. I don’t think anything will change in that way. What will become a challenge for marketers is seeing their pool of prospecting targets shrink immensely. Let’s not duck this issue because it’s important. In a business that relies on digital media, the challenge will be that marketers conducting prospect campaigns might simply not have the volumes to hit their targets. Again… luckily… those who use direct mail campaigns will be less affected and could conceivably carry on near normally.

How will GDPR affect the creativity of the industry and the individuals working within it?

Now, this is interesting. If you accept the premise that marketers will have fewer prospects to contact, but that their manager will still require the same results as they were getting pre-GDPR, the logical result will be that Marketers require their marketing creative – whatever format that might be in – to work harder. In other words, there will be increased pressure and focus on the creative getting better results. That will force the creative industry to improve its offering, with those able to clearly show improvement making the most of the opportunities that are available.

How will brands be affected? Do you think they are prepared for what’s coming? How adaptable will they need to be?

In the short run, even those big brands that are GDPR ready could see it as being ‘tough economic circumstances’. That’s simply because most big brands find it hard to change quickly. What they thrive on is ‘last year plus five to ten percent’ targets. Smaller, more agile brands will adapt more easily to the new regulations. In the long run, however, those brands, both large and small, could benefit greatly from the introduction of GDPR, because again, those brands that embrace it will increase their trustworthiness in the eyes of their customers.

What happens to Direct Mail Marketing in a post GDPR world? Will there be a substantial ‘slow-down’ in progression?

The good news for marketers and design agencies is that direct mail marketing is still an ‘opt out media’ in the post-GDPR world. So, there’s an opportunity for marketers and design agencies to turn to personalised direct mail as a way through GDPR whilst still creating impact. The challenge will be getting that message out there. I see digitally printed direct mail as the way forward. All the stats prove it’s better for responses than email, and perhaps now that GDPR is here it’s an idea whose time has come.

Does Brexit matter? Are there any loopholes you can see being found in the ‘Data Protection Bill’?

Brexit matters only in the sense that if we still want to communicate for business on a European-wide basis, we need to adhere to their rules. If you believe that we should create our own rules, then ipso facto you accept that you cannot communicate cross-border without some level of complication. In reality, most UK businesses operate on a national basis so Brexit should not affect their marketing. However, can I see the UK diverging from GDPR post-Brexit? No.

The general consensus is that GDPR allows brands to put consumers first, but are there any ways in which it will also benefit brands?

We touched on this earlier, but it’s worth elaboration. Those brands that embrace GDPR will be putting their customer and any prospects first. This means that, although they might have to change the way they are marketing, ‘leading’ rather than ‘selling’, those that succeed in both adapting, and more importantly, promoting how they are putting their customers first, will be seen as much more trustworthy and this should translate into word-of-mouth sales, improved loyalty and increased retention.

Is there a grey area when it comes to what exactly constitutes ‘personal information’ or do you feel it’s more black and white?

There is no grey area with regard to what is personal information, but there is a huge grey area with regard to what is ‘legitimate interest’. An easy-going interpretation of legitimate interest over personal information might have minimal effect, but with a rigid interpretation digital advertising volumes could – potentially – plummet due to the increased restrictions. It’s never been tested in Law, so it’s simply too early to say which way the penny will fall.

 

Dan Naylor, Head of Data at Cheil London

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On balance, do you believe, personally and professionally, that GDPR will be a good or a bad thing for the industry?

Personally and professionally, the concept behind GDPR has to be applauded. It provides a concise framework for consumers to hold all organisations to account that is well overdue. GDPR is, however, only the first step in defining the ethical and proper use of consumer data. My hope is that organisations see the opportunity to migrate from an activity-based mindset of leveraging data to a more human and emotionally-engaged approach.

Is there a lot of scaremongering being made over nothing? Or is the noise warranted?

The noise is warranted, but slightly misplaced. GDPR came into force in 2016 with a two-year implementation window. It’s a shame that there is a last-minute rush to comply, rather than a focused debate about building workflow, processes and governance for May 26 and beyond. Being compliant is clearly very important, but the ongoing requirements are to manage how identity works within the relationships brands hold with consumers and the relationships consumers hold with brands.

Do you feel it will challenge or change the industry in any quantifiable way? If so, how?

Whether it changes the industry will be based on whether consumers and wider society really engage with their data and hold organisations to account. I hope this results in consumers using their new-found power to build specific communications profiles for organisations they interact with. In keeping with wider digital trends, consumers seek connections, engaging more with brands they trust and will have increasingly less patience for brands that abuse this trust.

How will GDPR effect the creativity of the industry and the individuals working within it?

Over time, I foresee a closer relationship between the creativity of communication and the data granted to drive it. I hope this gives license for different creative approaches driven by a direct relationship with consumers. My fear is that business executives don’t see the opportunity for a two-way dialogue with consumers and see only risk, which will mean bland, anonymous and me-too positioning.

What happens to digital marketing in a post GDPR world? Will there be a substantial ‘slow-down’ in progression?

There is potential for a slow-down in activity for organisations who have over-relied upon the type of mass market, spray-and-pray tactics that GDPR hopes to suppress. Talking as a consumer: good, if that means less crap marketing and unsolicited communications from this point on.

The general consensus is that GDPR allows brands to put consumers first, but are there any ways in which it will also benefit brands?

In 2008, when I began analysing social behaviour, social platforms were subject to genuine brand movements - brands which connected had the ability to create peer-to-peer scale. It was a very difficult phenomenon to re-create and required and favoured brands that were acutely aware of the place they held in their customers' affections. Now that digital is ubiquitous to all communications and social part of a brand conscious, I hope we return to a more genuine expression of brand equity and a longer-term lens for success.

Will GDPR hamper advertising campaigns because agencies will be more limited by what data they are allowed to buy? Or do you think they’ll just get more creative? Whether agencies are hampered will depend on whether the quality of their existing data is based on legitimate and authentic permission from a user. They’ll be a host of activity that will need to be reviewed. However, using adjectives like hamper suggests that agencies are being held back. My personal opinion is that considerable activity is commissioned because agencies are being busy, not because it is adding value to either the client's bottom line, or enriching the consumer’s life. I hope they get more creative, but the jury is out.

Is there a grey area when it comes to what exactly constitutes ‘personal information’ or do you feel it’s more black and white? There is no grey area to the definition, although there is room for interpretation. But working around GDPR is just a fool's errand - and a gamble being taken with 4% of global revenue – so unlikely to be worthwhile.

 

Lauren Green, Content Marketing Manager at Flow

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On balance, do you believe, personally and professionally, that GDPR will be a good or a bad thing for the industry?

While there has been plenty of scaremongering with the GDPR (and more than enough emails), it doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom. Far from it. Yes, your marketing will have to work harder to get those consumers to ‘opt-in’, but that could mean good things in the industry. It’s likely that we’ll see marketing techniques and ad campaigns improved and better targeted. Plus, the people who actually do opt-in are interested in your services, so you know you can appeal to those consumers. There’s also the chance to opt out of certain emails with the GDPR. We already get enough emails, and we can clean up our inboxes. I had no idea I was subscribed to so many newsletters.

Is there a lot of scaremongering being made over nothing? Or is the noise warranted?

Well, it certainly is warranted if you choose to ignore the GDPR (I can imagine there are a few companies who do). The penalties are severe, so you want to avoid them as best as possible. You also don’t want to affect your relationship with your consumers, particularly if they are suspicious of your methods in collecting data. We only have to look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to see how bad the situation with personal data can be. What is making people nervous is the fear of losing prospects. But, if you stick to your guns and do your job right - you should be just fine.

Do you feel it will challenge or change the industry in any quantifiable way? If so, how?

It will definitely challenge the digital marketing sector - an industry so reliant on measuring metrics. You are going to lose consumers. That’s a fact. From sending out a newsletter asking people to ‘opt-in’, there are going to be some who don’t (and had previously been too lazy to click unsubscribe). It’s likely there will also be increased pressure on targeting the correct audience. However, this is the chance for brands to get savvy and creative. We’ll see a lot more innovation after the GDPR.

How will brands be affected? Do you think they are prepared for what’s coming? How adaptable will they need to be?

Brands will be affected, there are no two ways about it. We don’t know enough regarding the changes to say we won’t be affected. And, you will, along the way, lose those previous consumers who do choose to opt out. However, the GDPR spells an opportunity for businesses. Those companies that embrace the legislation and work to the interests of their audience will steadily increase trust, transparency and authenticity. Speaking of prepared, I’m still receiving emails to this date, so I’m not sure all are ready for the GDPR.

What happens to digital marketing in a post GDPR world? Will there be a substantial ‘slow-down’ in progression?

We’re going to have to get clever. Post GDPR means our subscribers may dwindle, so to counteract, we need to offer something that other brands don’t. Online advertising may initially suffer, with the likes of Facebook removing certain demographics that allow us to target prospects with ads. However, we’ll do what we do best and produce relevant content, ideas and campaigns to get in front of the right people. Some brands might also find that they have built up such a voice and reputation that the GDPR doesn’t significantly affect their marketing.

Does Brexit matter? Are there any loopholes you can see being found in the ‘Data Protection Bill’?

When it was first announced, there was confusion regarding the GDPR. However, we will still be an EU member at the point the GDPR is enforced, so we will be subject to the rules. Companies should also not expect this to change when we leave the EU, as the Data Protection Bill is an almost replica of the GDPR.

The general consensus is that GDPR allows brands to put consumers first, but are there any ways in which it will also benefit brands?

Putting your customer first will always help you succeed. If you are producing campaigns etc. with their needs/buying habits in mind, they are going to convert. Yes, you will have to change your way of marketing, but that’s for the better. You are focusing on those that are actually interested in your brand, so there’s a plus. Companies that do embrace the GDPR will also build trust with their consumer, which likely will improve word-of-mouth sales.

Will GDPR hamper advertising campaigns because agencies will be more limited by what data they are allowed to buy? Or do you think they’ll just get more creative?

No, I don’t believe it will hamper advertising campaigns. If anything, they will only improve. If you are limited to what data you can buy, you have to get creative to expand your reach. This could lead to more extensive research in particular industries and the like. If anything, it will benefit advertising campaigns.

Is there a grey area when it comes to what exactly constitutes ‘personal information’ or do you feel it’s more black and white?

No, I don’t believe there is a grey area. Personal information is personal information, but it’s how your company uses it that can cause confusion. Is the data of legitimate interest to your company? Have you collected it the right way and alerted the consumer to the use? This is where the GDPR stems from, as consumers don’t trust brands with info anymore. If you are transparent with regards to collecting data, there should be no issue or cause for confusion.

 

Helen James, Managing Director of Crispin Porter + Bogusky London

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On balance, do you believe, personally and professionally, that GDPR will be a good or a bad thing for the industry?

The notion of greater trust is at the heart of GDPR and that can only be a good thing for brands operating in today’s climate. Who hasn’t been freaked out in the past by ads that pop up in your feed and tell you that someone, somewhere knows something about your innermost needs, hopes, desires? GDPR is an opportunity for advertisers to fix this by ensuring consumer consent first, and then building trust and ultimately respect as you deliver asked-for, engaging ads.

How will GDPR effect the creativity of the industry and the individuals working within it?

Running a creative agency, I wholeheartedly believe GDPR is going to be a kind of vitamin shot in the arm for us. Creativity has become commoditised in the face of programmatic and procurement over the years but now, thanks to GDPR, we’re going to find ourselves in a place where great advertising will be advertising that people literally have to vote to receive. Creativity will carry an obvious premium again.

How will brands be effected? Do you think they are prepared for what’s coming? How adaptable will they need to be?

There’s no doubt the advent of GDPR is a challenge for brands and advertisers, being compliant was never going to be about simply flicking a switch, no matter how much some commentators have described GDPR as ‘common sense’. Clearly it’s going to be a case of adapt or die and that’s precisely how it should be. But for those who embrace everything that a post-GDPR world implies, there will be clear benefits: higher-quality data that delivers more actionable insights into your consumers and the reality that your advertising relationships with those consumers are grounded in a greater level of trust than they have ever been before.

What happens to digital marketing in a post GDPR world? Will there be a substantial ‘slow-down’ in progression?

Now that the majority of consumers have got used to the notion of targeted ads, I bet a lot of those people would rather continue to see relevant ads for products they’re actually interested in. GDPR will probably mean a level of slower progress here, yes.

The general consensus is that GDPR allows brands to put consumers first, but are there any ways in which it will also benefit brands?

The best marketers will see GDPR as a force for positive change – indirectly forcing us back into the golden era of marketing where it was all about creating great products that people couldn’t help but fall in love with. Add to that the post GDPR world’s transparency imperative and for a brand marketer, these are exciting, opportunity-filled times.

Will GDPR hamper advertising campaigns because agencies will be more limited by what data they are allowed to buy? Or do you think they’ll just get more creative

Certainly the GDPR limits agencies in terms of what data they can now buy for their clients. If you’ve not got ahead of the curve already then on May 25th ad and media agencies are indeed going to come a little unstuck to say the least. As with most things in life, being reactive is not always best – the opportunity for us lies in embracing the fact that transparency and control are at the heart of GDPR, and that’s a great thing as ultimately we’ll see more trust built between exemplary brands who understand the power of creativity, and their consumers.

 

Dino Myers-Lamptey, UK Managing Director, MullenLowe Mediahub

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On balance, do you believe, personally and professionally, that GDPR will be a good or a bad thing for the industry?

GDPR will hopefully end up being a good thing. Currently, data is flooding the market with too many supplies selling duplicated data. Much of this data has been gained without clear consent and, for that reason, it is often misleading data that isn’t a true predictor of future behaviour, yet the premiums are being charged as if it were.

Is there a lot of scaremongering being made over nothing? Or is the noise warranted?

Despite the previous cookie legislation proving otherwise, it’s probably fair to say that the noise is warranted in the case of GDPR. The potential fines are much bigger and, in light of the recent data breaches, the EU will be keen to take meaningful action.

Do you feel it will challenge or change the industry in any quantifiable way? If so, how?

Third party data suppliers are going to need to reinvent themselves. We can predict that most people will opt out of sharing their data to companies they don’t know, and if this is the case, the currencies that they have will vanish, and thus force them to change the nature of their businesses. We will hopefully see a move away from the often misleading audience targeting strategies and buys, to one that’s more based on actual behaviour which is a far stronger indicator for buying and future action.

How will GDPR effect the creativity of the industry and the individuals working within it?

GDPR shouldn’t have too much of an effect on creativity. Customers of brands who realise the value of being closer to the brand will still provide their consent for personalised communications or offers which will keep those avenues open for creativity through personalisation. Without the access to more customer data, adtech and creativity will still be able to tailor ads to the behavioural indicators of users or the personal information a user chooses to share publicly (you could still run the Coca-Cola “name-on-a-can” ads for instance), however they just won’t be able to add that extra level of personalisation, without the consumers’ consent.

How will brands be affected? Do you think they are prepared for what’s coming? How adaptable will they need to be?

Big brands with lawyers will send out the right literature, however many will be caught out, as so much is down to interpretation and how heavy and specific the law comes down on those who don’t comply. Many brands are likely to try to do the minimum, but will very quickly react once the fines come in for the unlucky few who are targeted first.

What happens to digital marketing in a post GDPR world? Will there be a substantial ‘slow-down’ in progression?

Digital marketing has arguably gotten lazy with data abundance. Having less will encourage smarter, more human and consumer-friendly ways to connect and be relevant. Very much like how, when you meet someone for the first time, you usually start with no information or data and build a relationship from there, brands will find themselves in a better, less stalker-like position when striking up new relationships with consumers.

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