Humans are creatures of habit. Monday through Friday I commute on the same road to the office, shop at the same grocery store, and eat lunch at the same little delicatessen. Weekends include kayaking, drinking Red Hook ESB, and camping at the different rivers in Colorado. As exciting as dropping 30 ft. waterfalls and running a BPO company is, most of my life is repeated behavior.
Behavior online is the same. The same web properties get about 90% of my attention. Mountain Buzz (www.mountainbuzz.com) gives me beta on the rivers that I kayak, myspace.com keeps me in touch with my social network, and Wikipedia is where I usually start researching. At work 10 sites are bookmarked and set to open when I launch Firefox.
What does this mean for online advertisers? Savvy web users don’t click on the red spider to get a better mortgage rate, punch Paris Hilton in the face, or click on the Windows warning box that claims “your computer has been infected with spyware!” Garbage like this appeals to the uneducated and uninitiated. As consumers gain experience and understanding of the Internet and its advertising nuances progress, those ignorant of its inner workings will vastly decrease. Clicks to impressions, not to mention conversions will make RON campaigns for anything but branding obsolete.
Enter Behavioral Targeting, which is neither new nor unique to the Internet. Most advertising networks have started to refine their procedures for recruiting and classifying publishers in an effort to create niche channels. Accurate categorization could easily be made redundant and unnecessary as developers perfect content crawling and keyword sensing technology imbedded in banner advertisements. Social network owners like Fox Interactive Media (myspace) and Facebook are working on technology that will serve ads based on the personal information contained in their users’ profiles. Even the monster Google is looking to leverage its search based targeting with the ad delivery capabilities of DoubleClick.
Habitual behavior is what makes user data valuable to marketers. Even after reading Orwell’s 1984 and a healthy fear of “Big Brother,” I for one would rather see targeted ads that mirror my interests and utilize my repetitive behaviors, than be bombarded with ads that have no relevance to me.
Legislation has always trailed innovation, as the methods of collection and utilizing data online become more aggressive we will see proponents on both sides of the fence; consumers that want a customized online experience based on previous behavior, keywords searched, websites visited, online profiles, and those who are more concerned with privacy. Legal precedents will be established, and definitive regulations are already evolving to encompass the online space. Online marketers should responsibly exploit the unregulated and wild zeitgeist of today’s online world before legislation and restrictions safeguarding user privacy are put into place.