Taking On A $6 Billion Market With Behavioral Advertising

06 May 2005

It has always been important to collect data from your customers, in order to be able to guarantee them a personal approach. The right way to gather information is to let people send it in voluntarily, but apparently that doesn’t always result in the expected response. So companies started to find new ways to gather information, some of them less legit than others. To define the border between ‘letting people agree to share their data’ and ‘having the data without actual consent’ is a rather difficult matter, as I’m about to point out.

One of the key players in the market of behavioral advertising is Claria, the company formerly known as Gator. The first time I heard about this company was when my ad-infested pc came to a crash, and the roommate I was sharing a flat with explained to me it was Kazaa who imported GAIN to my pc. That’s how things came to run slow, and eventually blocked everything I wanted to do. GAIN is a part of Gator, and belongs to a much greater network. The privacy statement on their site says the following about their activities GAIN Publishing distributes a variety of popular software applications and owns and operates a behavioral advertising network called the GAIN Network. The GAIN Network helps keep many popular software applications and web sites free. These software applications also occasionally display pop up ads on your computer screen based on your online activities. Alternatively, ad-free versions of the software titles distributed by GAIN Publishing are available for purchase (conditions apply).

Well. The good thing is, since then I’ve rarely used a download or peer-to-peer search tool. I can say with the hand on my heart that within the last two years, no BearShare, Kazaa or LimeLight-alike program has been installed on my computer. That’s how I blocked out GAIN. I hope.The pop-ups GAIN used to cause were large in numbers and took ages to load, taking all my bandwith and although I was on cable, surfing became almost impossible or took far more time than under normal circumstances. So I did a little research on the pop-ups. Here’s what the GAIN disclaimer says :

“The number of ads the GAIN Network will display to you depends on how often you view websites indicating your interest in products or services being offered by GAIN Network advertisers and on the volume of your Internet usage generally.”

So on the one hand, the more I loaded Kazaa – which displayed a start-up website on every load, or some other GAIN sponsored service for that matter, the more ads I’d be getting. On the other hand, since I’m always surfing the web I spent many hours visiting pages. The ads are also based ‘on the volume of my internet usage generally’ so that leaves me to conclude that a massive bomb of ads is waiting for me, every time I connect to the web. These ads should all be dislplaying products that I’m supposed to like, based in my surfing behaviour and the pages I’ve visited.

To emphasize this : I open my browser (make a connection in general) and without even having the chance of going to the pages I like, I’m supposed to deal with tons of ads telling me what to buy, think or like.
All of this happened because I’ve clicked ‘yes, I agree’ in the Kazaa software. If had know I’d be giving GAIN permission to collect my data this way, I’m pretty sure I’d have cancelled the installation. I just didn’t know what it was, until it made my PC crash.

This is clearly a borderline-case where the lacunas in law and legislation are exploited in the disadvantage of the web users in general. This is how I interpret it. I’m not saying it is a fact. I experience it this way. So far for GAIN. Let’s take it higher. Pop-ups are apparently efficient but far too aggressive. There must be another way.

Why did I bring this up?

C|Net reported about Claria on february 14th :

Claria “[...] is launching a new marketing division and advertising service to migrate from hawking its signature pop-up advertisements to selling behaviorally targeted display ads. If it has its way, the ads will appear on publisher pages across the Web, reaching as many as 200 million people. To address the privacy implications of such an ambitious service, Claria has also hired a team of experts to ensure it meets industry and consumer clearances. Claria plans to announce partners and introduce the service, called BehaviorLink, in April.”

Clickz reported on BehaviorLink :

“BehaviorLink still uses intelligence gathered from observing user behaviors online. However, it eschews the pop-ups that have characterized its platform to date. The company also hopes its new ad model will help it court more well-established software publishers, which bundle Claria’s software with their own free offerings, and share in the revenue generated. The company has also assembled a group of privacy experts to boost its image with more prominent software publisher.” [...]

What does this mean for Claria, and what are the results they intend to obtain with this project? (as read on Clickz):

“For Claria, BehaviorLink will initially mean more work for less pay-off. Under its existing model, an impression is served to the user’s desktop directly by GAIN, Claria’s installed adware product, sometimes at the moment he or she is considering an online purchase. In other words, the company creates its own inventory. The company’s margins for BehaviorLink sales will obviously be thinner than those for its GAIN-served ads, since it will have to actually pay for the media into which it serves ads. Additionally, the effectiveness of those impressions will presumably be less than for its GAIN-served units, since they’ll be served hours or days after the user action that triggers them. But even hours or days later, the impressions are surprisingly powerful, at least according to Claria’s own research. For individuals who saw one of Claria’s ads within 14 days of the action that triggered it, the company found the click-through rate was between four and 30 times higher than that of an ‘untargeted’ ad.”

So you’re only being submitted to behavioral advertisement if you’re using some sort of software (often freeware) that has ties with GAIN.
Still, that market is estimated on 40 million users and BehaviorLink has set its target to expand the market to 200 million users by engaging in partnerships with as many small software and tool providers as possible.

Things are going to get tricky if you want to avoid being played.

On the other hand, if you are a marketer who wants to take part in this action, here are some benefits (from the BehaviorLink site):

“BehaviorLink also allows Advertisers to better understand their target audience by analyzing their behavior across the Internet – what sites they are viewing, what competitors they shop, how they respond to your ads, and frequency of purchases to name a few. BehaviorLink’s unique visibility into Web traffic and usage patterns allows for a comprehensive analysis of consumer behavior in many categories. Advertisers can segment consumers on many levels of category usage or brand loyalty in order to deliver ads to consumers who will best respond to them.”

Also :

“A behavioral marketer, using data from BehaviorLink, has deep insights that enable more relevant offers, more targeted offers and higher-value offers to the consumer. Because of the obvious relevance, BehaviorLink ads often fall into the “information” category as much as advertising. The more consumers perceive that they are receiving information versus an ad, the better it is for both the consumer and marketer.”

This takes us to the thin line that separates us from choosing or searching a thing/subject/product and having it offered to us. I still don’t feel at ease when people decide for me what’s best, or when people are trying to guess what I will like better than something else. I guess I’ll have to take more distance from my ‘consumer view’ on the web when it comes to marketing, if I want to be able to market my products on the web successfully.

To be continued…

Read the full ‘How It Works’ on BehaviorLink
Claria Privacy Statement and Terms of Use
Read GAIN Publishing’s About section
Read the story on Clickz


Posted by Miel Van Opstal in Advertising, Legal, Spam & Scam


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