As a public relations and marketing practitioner, I’ve spent a year learning about something called IPv6, why it’s necessary and how it could impact everything we do. IPv6 is not new. It’s been planned for decades, but it’s being deployed now. And the impact on analytical and demographic reporting for marketers could be profound, if not ruinous. And that’s just the beginning.

The Old IP Address

Everything has an IP address – your MacBook, your iPhone, even your car. It’s that sequence of numbers that identifies your device as unique. Add IP addresses to modern coffee brewers, lamps, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, and that smart doorknob on your front door, and some technology experts are sounding the doomsday alarm. Like 3-digit telephone numbers from the early 1900’s, today’s modern IP addresses are running out. And fast.

The New IP Address

Internet service providers (ISP’s) generally utilize IPv4, an old system of registering IP addresses and gateways on the web. With IPv4 addresses all but gone, the conversion to IPv6 is well underway. And with it, much more complex IPv6 IP addresses and the problems most of us haven’t yet anticipated. Consider it a warning similar to Y2K in the 1990s, but with real consequences for PR and marketing.

According to reports, Google measured IPv6 migration at 10% globally in 2016. Estimates today put acceptance rates near 17%.

Why It’s Important

The old system (IPv4) meant individual and unique IP addresses were assigned to virtually everything. Computers were unique. Phones were unique. And that uniqueness meant we could plan or evaluate campaigns based upon those unique IP addresses. Enter IPv6.

The emerging IPv6 system allows internet service providers to use a single gateway (IPv6 IP address) for scores of customers over a region – and the region can be enormous. In simple terms, ISP’s don’t necessarily convey where a web user, or web service, is located.

The implications of the IPv6 conversion are immense. If, for example, a corporation hosts its own website in an IPv4 environment, users may not be able to reach the site in the near future, according to web experts. And if you’re like any public relations or marketing professional I know, you rely on analytics and demographic targeting. Better buckle up.

The conventional methods of measuring and assessing demographics, including referrals, geographic location, interests, click rates – that system is in jeopardy. Because IPv6 groups web users together in wide geographic areas, you could be targeting an audience in Toledo, Ohio and end up measuring visitors in Plano, Texas. And the implications for costlier video advertising are only being realized.

Google, Amazon… science will figure this out in the future. Today, the answer is in knowledge of what’s happening and what’s coming. Those who understand it and are prepared to talk about it might win clients… maybe not the campaign.

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