The online ad industry is fighting back complaints that it violates consumer privacy with a creepy new ad campaign. Literally, new online ads defending online advertising tactics are running with the tagline “advertising is creepy.”

Much of the confusion about the ongoing privacy wars online comes down to consumer ignorance on the matter. The Internet Advertising Bureau is hoping to change that with the campaign that launched today — set to reach every American online. But even confronted with the details of online advertising, will consumers listen?

Congress is currently investigating the practices employed by advertisers to track and serve advertising online. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has said he plans
to introduce new federal legislation that would require companies to notify users
about online ad targeting, and in some circumstances, obtain their
explicit consent before using any of their personal information. But companies that use targeting have repeatedly argued that they need to follow consumer behavior online to make advertising more useful to consumers. And now they’re going directly to consumers to show how.

The new campaign, created pro bono by
WPP’s Schematic, consists of banner ads with copy like
“Advertising is creepy” and “Hey, this banner can tell where you live.
Mind if we come over and sell you stuff?”

Users that click through the ads and on the IAB’s Privacy Matters page, which contains information on targeting, different kinds of advertising and cookies.

More than a dozen publishers, including
Microsoft, Google’s YouTube, and AOL, have committed to donate a
combined 500 million impressions for the initiative.

The IAB thinks that that 500 million impressions will be able to
reach every American online, but sees this campaign as just the
beginning of efforts to educate consumers on the details of online
advertising. The group expects agencies to produce more pro bono PSAs
in 2010 and plans to raise money to buy premium placements on major
portals.

As AdAge writes:

“Ironically, the ads themselves won’t be targeted, or even frequency-capped, so they’ll be hitting consumers early and often.”

The ads are part of an ongoing campaign by the online advertising industry to inform consumers about how their private information is actually used online. When consumers — and legislators — hear talk about user information being used online, they often respond negatively without listening to the details of how it works — or how they can benefit from advertisers knowing some of their demographic data and browsing history.

Lots of advertising companies argue that they use targeting in legitimate ways and are tired of being lumped together with internet scams, spam, spyware and malware whenever the subject of privacy comes up. But there are plenty of privacy advocates that think advertisers aren’t sharing the whole story.

Jeff Chester, Privacy advocate and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, tells MediaPost of the new campaign ads:

“They are ignoring the growing
consensus that cookies and IP addresses are personally identifiable.”

But even if the information is correct, an all-out campaign to inform consumers has no guarantee of actually reaching them. A test of the campaign in late October and early November yielded a click-through rate of 0.5%.

Many consumers have shown through their browsing history that they don’t care to read the fine print — and even bold print — about their personal privacy. That’s why the movement for legislation has been gaining steam. If consumers don’t take the time to make decisions about their personal privacy, the argument goes, then Congress will have to do it for them.

The advertising industry believes that when consumers are informed about the legitimate ways their information is used online, they will be comfortable with sharing. But unfortunately for online advertisers, there’s no guarantee consumers will read the details.

Images: IAB