Sep 4 2009

Please sir….may I have more targeted advertising

A few days ago I received a note from Plaxo in my inbox that said in part:

As you probably know, Plaxo was acquired last year by Comcast and is now a business unit of Comcast Interactive Media (CIM). Not surprisingly, given the above focus, we’ve been working on enabling interoperability between Plaxo and other CIM Websites. In advance of rolling out this common identity system, we’ve developed a unified Terms of Service and Privacy Policy that will apply to Plaxo and the other participating Comcast Websites, providing consistent protection and eliminating the complexity and potential confusion of having different terms and policies for each Website.

Among the things that were updated in the policy was the section pertaining to what information Plaxo could use. Specifically they are now able to make use of “Demographic portions of your data (such as zip code, gender, or industry) and usage patterns may be shared with our trusted partners who deliver advertising to you on our behalf.”

I may be in the minority here, but I’m actually happy to have non-personally identifiable information used by third party ad networks in an effort to serve me better ads. And, in fact, I’m shocked at how little information it seems these networks actually know about me. For example, despite all the time I spend searching on Google, on Google docs, Google groups, and other Google sites, I was shocked at how little they actually know about me (see my post on exposing Google cookie information here). I’m involved in a handful of advertising related businesses and I understand a lot about how the advertising ecosystem comes together to try to figure out what ad to show what user. We talk about things like “behavioral targeting” a lot in the industry but it’s surprisingly limited in its overall use and effectiveness (there are a handful of very specific categories that advertisers and networks are looking for – most of the rest of us don’t make the cut). State of the art is to categorize based on location and possibly a cut at your gender (either indirectly based on the demographics of the site you are visiting or slightly more directly based on the usage patters that have been observed). While there are a handful of companies out there that are trying to take this to the next level their reach is so far pretty limited.

So rather than be upset at Plaxo for taking the information it knows about m to build a better business and a smarter advertising ecosystem I say the more the better. I’d like to see more ads about cycling and home building and fewer urging me to attend the University of Phoenix.