24/7 Throws Targeted One-Two Punch

Having launched a behavioral targeting product Tuesday, interactive marketing and technology firm 24/7 Real Media made it a one-two punch Thursday, rolling out behaviorally targeted ad packages on its 700-site advertising network.

The move gives network-wide scale to a trend that so far has been confined to individual sites using software from Tacoda or Revenue Science. Now, if a user visits a finance site daily, for example, the system would place that user in the finance segment. The user could then be served finance ads even when visiting other sites, and sections of sites, on the network.

It’s a big network, having recently grown to become the fourth largest media entity online, with the addition of Lycos U.S. In January, the network saw 33 million unique visitors, and Lycos — before joining the network — saw 46 million, according to comScore Media Metrix.

The advantages of the behavioral approach are obvious. Among other things, it capitalizes on “hand-raising” behavior, where the user appears to have indicated an interest in a good or service. Also, it’s a way to sell less desirable inventory at relatively high rates because the audience is more targeted.

“[Behavioral targeting] works well and you need massive scale to make it work,” said Nate Elliott, associate analyst with Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent of this publication. “That’s why it makes sense for ad servers and networks to get into this game.”

Three elements of 24/7 technology will work together to create the packages. Insight XE will aggregate users’ behavior, Insight ACT will analyze and cluster the data, and Open AdStream will serve the ads.

Previously, 24/7’s targeting was done according to a content taxonomy, according to David Hills, president of Media Solutions of 24/7. Sales to advertisers were made based on adjacency to specific content, such as health or finance-oriented information. This new approach supplements the content taxonomy with audience-based behavior.

But there could be pitfalls to the audience-based approach when employed on the network level. For example, what if a frequent visitor to a cigar site is served a competitor’s cigar ad on a sports site and buys the competitor’s product?

“All of our sites will have to opt into the program. The sites have control,” Hills said. “They can choose not to participate.”

Privacy is another concern the company is looking to allay. 24/7 competitor DoubleClick endured a firestorm of controversy in the late 1990s when it announced plans to create user profiles based on a combination of offline data and online behavior. The company hastily dropped the plans, but concerns linger.

“We have no personally identifiable information,” Hills said. “They [DoubleClick] had both behavior and personal information. We’re not going to be in that situation because we don’t want to collect, and our system is not set up to collect, personal information.”

Hills said when users register on a site, often handing over names and other information, the 24/7 system “won’t know that, and our system won’t know when they buy things either.”

Hills also said consumers could opt out of behavioral tracking altogether by visiting the privacy policy area on any one of the sites and following the prompts. Users need only opt out on one site to escape tracking on all the others, Hills said.

Asked how common it is for users to read privacy policies, Hills said, “People who are sensitive to that will go and look at privacy policies and opt out. We think that’s a fine thing.”

In addition to this week’s behaviorally oriented news, the company on Thursday nabbed a primo client, Comcast Spotlight, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable, the nation’s largest broadband cable services provider. 24/7 ‘s Open AdStream Central is now the ad serving solution for Comcast High-Speed Internet.

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