On the internet, advertisers want to know if you’re really a dog

In the last century, a famous cartoon illustrated the central reason behind people-based marketing, ad transparency and anti-fake news.

In 1993, as the commercial internet was being born, one New Yorker cartoon in particular seemed to capture the essence of this new medium.

It showed a dog sitting at a desktop computer, speaking to another dog sitting on the floor. The caption: “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

It defined a key uniqueness for this new thing, the internet. You could be your true self. Or you could get away from your true self. You were defined by your actions.

Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, three of the biggest drivers of change in marketing, advertising and content have one thing in common.

Essentially, they are looking to rewrite that cartoon.

People-based marketing — such as from Viant/TimeAcxiom’s LiveRampPublishers Clearing House or Sonobi — is a growing wave these days for targeted marketing and advertising. It offers real people, so targeting can be more precise and, in many cases, more related to users’ actual purchase intent.

In ad tech, a key driver of today’s changes — arguably the main driver — is transparency. Advertisers, who actually pay the bills, want to make sure they’re not being ripped off from fraud, overpricing or other schemes in a murky ecosystem.

And the central force behind how content is handled these days — especially news, but other types of content as well — is the drive against fake news. If someone can fake a presidential election story, they can certainly fake a story against a competing product.

All three of these major trends come from one motive. If expressed as a question, it would be:

Who are you, really?

Really a dog?

Are you really a dog? A human? One pretending to be the other?

The charming realization in that New Yorker cartoon was that you — a consumer or a creator of products and content — could wear a mask, or you could be yourself.

You would be judged by your deeds online, your behavior. If you looked at product pages for red sneakers, you’d later be shown discounts on red sneakers. It didn’t matter if you had four paws but no feet, because the internet was unrestricted by time, place or fortunes of birth.

Now, there’s a different impetus. Although not as funny, the same cartoon could be recaptioned:

“On the internet, advertisers want to know if you’re really a dog.”

Instead of anonymous cookies traded throughout the ad universe, many users and marketers now prefer to know the person they’re pitching.

Instead of unverified — in some cases, unknown — website or app screens where your ads will run, advertisers now want verification that the destination is who it says it is. And that these ad events really happened.

And, instead of realistic-looking news items that get you and your friends talking about what is going wrong in the world, many readers now want to know if the news source is credible and genuine.

It’s not exactly buying and selling through the corner store, but it’s related. Doing business with — and accepting information from — people and organizations you can identify is coming back in a big way.

In other words, there’s a new dog in town.

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