Web advertising saunters toward personalization

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It's Saturday afternoon and you're surfing the Web to get specs on that new car you want to buy. While at the Toyota site, you fill out a form requesting a videotape and a CD-ROM.

The next time you're on the Web, an ad banner pops up. "Joe Smith," it says. "Click here to learn how to test drive that Toyota you're looking for."

Depending on how you look at it, the scenario is a frightening depiction of invasion of privacy or a stunning example of the Web's vaunted targeting ability. And it could become the way marketers get their message across in an environment where breaking through the clutter is a matter of relevancy and laser-focused targeting.


"We'll be able to get right to the individual consumer, and the individual consumer will control it and love it, because it will be private and control the cost of their products," said Kevin O'Connor, president-CEO of DoubleClick, a company providing targeted Web advertising.

How soon will this happen? Probably sooner than you think. Web advertising is only two years old, but there already are a slew of companies that mine information about a Web user's computer and Web browser to make sure the right ad message reaches the right type of Web user at the right time. It's only a matter of tweaking the software to enable advertisers to reach an individual instead of a demographic.

Take DoubleClick, for example. Advertisers that buy into the DoubleClick network of Web sites can target their ads to users arriving from specific domains, such as ibm.com or any .edu host computer. Targeting is also possible based on region of country, time of day, day of week, browser type and operating system.

Ad management companies like NetGravity, Accipiter and Focalink Communications offer similar types of targeting.

Several new competitors including ClickOver and IMGIS, are preparing to enter the targeted advertising space later this year.

DoubleClick will soon offer advertisers the ability to buy editorial adjacencies on news-driven sites. An airline, for example, could buy an ad banner on a page carrying a story about air travel to London, but not about crashes.


So far, the only way a marketer can send a targeted message to a unique user is if that person registered at a site or requested information. And even then, many marketers and agencies are loath to use the information except in a very guarded way.

If marketers are fearful of targeting due to privacy concerns, that's one issue. But an even more surprising one is this: With all the ways to target advertising available on the Web now, a lot of marketers aren't even starting to make use of them.

"Almost all the ads we serve are bought based on the content environment," not the ability to target demographics, said Brad Husick, VP-marketing at NetGravity.

The reason is simple.

"Clients aren't very sophisticated," said Tig Tillinghast, director of interactive for Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco. "They don't buy into it."

And not everyone believes that targeting is as crucial for Web marketers as some companies make it out to be.

"When you try to target on a wider basis, it gets logistically difficult," said John Nardone, director of media and research at Modem Media, Westport, Conn.

In a recent campaign for AT&T's WorldNet Service, "there were so many different microtargets we could have addressed [that] it got out of hand."

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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