Behavioral and Web 2.0

  |  October 29, 2008   |  Comments

How the definition of opt-in can get blurry in social media advertising.

MySpace launched MyADs earlier this month. It's described as "a new advertising platform designed to create relevant, targeted promotional business campaigns within one of the largest social media environment."

With MyAds, MySpace put the whole advertising process into the hands of an advertiser to build a customized, targeted, and measurable campaign.

According to MySpace, the process involves five steps:

  1. Visit or click the "Advertise" link located at the bottom of any MySpace page.
  2. Create a display ad using the MyAds Builder Tool.
  3. Select a variable ad spend anywhere from $25 to $10,000.
  4. Use HyperTarget to target ads to customers.
  5. Measure ad performance with MyAds analytics reporting.

The "hypertargeting" caught my attention.

As is true with all behavioral targeting, MySpace's HyperTargeting ad technology enables the advertisers to serve their ad campaign to the "right" customers. The technology enables marketers to connect with specific online communities on a massive scale based on self-expressed interests available on MySpace profiles.

Advertisers are given access to targeting parameters, such as age, sex, and geographical location, in combination with thousands of user interest categories including specific keywords within each category. For example, within the video game enthusiast category, a further targeting keyword or phrase might include "Call of Duty 5" if relevant to an advertiser's campaign.

According to ReadWriteWeb's Rick Turoczy, MyAds offers familiar demographics to advertisers interested in using its service. Targeting selections include gender, a range of ages from 14 to over 65, United States geographic targeting, and a series of highly targeted interests. Still, MyAds reportedly goes further.

"Unlike traditional online advertising demographics, however, the MySpace targeting includes some very MySpace-specific options, including 'drinking,' 'partying,' and professional wrestling," Turoczy wrote. He suggested this could be MySpace's key to success.

And there's the rub, and my concern. The demos appear to be culled from the MySpace profiles.

MySpace says that only 1 percent choose to opt out of receiving ads, according to Diane Mermigas, a business journalist writing on Seeking Alpha. But I wonder if the other 99 percent knows what type of info is being gathered from profiles.

And once someone has opted in -- or not opted out -- who's to say how much and what kind of additional info will be gathered to that end? And as major players start partnering with others, such as MySpace partnering with Amazon on streaming free music the lines are blurred and the definition of what was opted into is up for grabs, or at least re-defined.

The social networks are seeking a way to monetize their existence. That's understood. But advertising by mining the information provided by participants seems so counter to the general culture of social networks themselves. The Facebook Beacon advertising service is certainly a different model, but uses members profile information.

Multiple lawsuits have given Facebook pause. One alleges that Facebook never sought user approval before collecting personal information, and was also keeping tabs on people who weren't even signed up for Facebook. The class action lawsuit filed August 12 in the California Northern District Court, and includes the following passages:

The Beacon program sent information regarding specific user transactions on Facebook Beacon Activated Affiliates' websites to Facebook regardless of whether the user was a Facebook member or not. Thus, no consent was sought, nor was any consent obtained from persons who utilize the Facebook Beacon Activated Affiiliate's website who were not Facebook members...

It was deceptive because, in almost every instance, the information sharing was contrary to the stated privacy policies of the Facebook website and every other Facebook Beacon Activated Affiliate that had signed up for the program.

More pause. So even though changes to the privacy policies were put in place, they may not have been followed.

I'm still a proponent of behavioral targeting and behavioral marketing, but with several caveats. It must be done at the aggregate level, as most of the sophisticated behavior profiles and predictive modeling companies are doing. None of this is done at the personal level.

Social networks are all about personal information. That's why they exist, for the most part. It's so clear this kind of advertising model has a place in Web 2.0.

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Elyse Tager Elyse Tager is founder and principal of Elymedia, an online and traditional media agency that has worked with many of the world's most recognizable brands, from Microsoft to PowerBar. With 20 years of executive marketing experience in direct response and 10 years of Internet marketing experience, Elyse has gained a thorough understanding of both types of media and how they interact. This depth of experience and knowledge has benefited her clients as they strategize marketing objectives in both on- and offline worlds.

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