Internet privacy campaign urges Canadians to rebel

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MONTREAL--In its first-ever marketing effort, Internet privacy company Zero-Knowledge Systems uses the unpopular side of online marketing to make its point.

Full-color, double-page U.S. magazine creative for Zero-Knowledge's Freedom Internet privacy software ramps up in full this week. A series of ads in magazines such as Forbes, Fortune, Wired, Business Week and PC Magazine features innocent-looking young people marked with bar codes. "I am not a piece of your inventory," reads one spot, showing a little girl. "I am an individual and you will respect my privacy. I will not be bartered, traded or sold."

Zero-Knowledge's marketing director, Sharon McCarry, calls the $6 million campaign an attempt "to make our space" and bring cybersurfers to Freedom, which can mask all traces of a user's e-mails, chats or browsing on the Internet.

There's even a hidden message embedded in the creative's bar code, which, when deciphered, reflects the Montreal-based company's philosophy on privacy and encryption.

But the company's own strong belief in Internet privacy means that tracking customers and where they're from is difficult; for instance, Ms. McCarry has no access to the firm's log of Internet addresses of visitors download the Freedom software.

"That's totally against who we are and what we do," she says. "I can't use any of the traditional tools to tell if we're going in the right direction."

Media buying was done heavily on instinct through Pegi Lee Gross & Associates, Toronto, working from limited research profiling Internet users who would be interested in privacy issues. Creative was handled in-house.

Next up for the Freedom campaign is TV and outdoor, which will progress from the current print effort and should break in September or October.

Internet privacy software such as Freedom and other programs is "a great thing," says a major online advertising sales company, but warns consumers to realize the potential cost of their privacy.

"We think that privacy is an important issue," says James Green, president of online ad sales company 24/7 Media in New York.

Mr. Green estimates that only about 5% of Web users have some sort of privacy software installed, but he suggests that if the programs did become widespread they could affect the free nature of the Internet.

"Content isn't really free," says Mr. Green, noting that consumers are essentially trading personal information for online content. "Someone has to pay for it. If you're going to pay for it by advertising, then advertisers are going to want information" about site visitors.

Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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