Not A Spy But A Valet

Let's face it. Behavioral targeting is just a tough sell with consumers on a number of levels. First, it is designed to work invisibly in background and only on occasion. Even if BT companies were eager to explain to their targets how and why they do what they do, the opportunities to have these conversation online are occasional and fleeting. How does that conversation work? "Here is an ad, and oh, by the way, let's stop for a second and talk about why you are seeing it here."

Moreover, in a world of senseless ad clutter, it is hard to make the case that any single targeting network is making the consumer's life any easier or visibly less cluttered. The benefits of BT are designed in part to be invisible, so bringing them forward in any meaningful way to consumers is a task. It is akin to having someone follow you clandestinely and then suddenly pop out of the bushes and say, "hey, we have been tailing you for a while now, but guess what? It is actually for your own good."

Another approach might be to turn behavioral targeting into a consumer-facing tool that is always there and always trying to demonstrate some sort of benefit. The technology company Atigeo recently launched its MyPageo browser widget/sidebar that serves personalized content and ad offers to users based on declared personal preferences as well as current page context and aggregated browsing histories.

The first, most visible iteration of the product can be found at the Web site for Endemol's hit TV game show "Deal or No Deal." Rather than try to build a new widget brand out of whole cloth, MyPageo is partnering with media brands to distribute branded versions of MyPageo. The tool can work either as a downloadable add-on that stays with the user wherever she browses, or as an embedded site-based solution that pops up when a user lands on the partner's site. "The core of the company is pattern recognition," says Mark Kapczynski, head of Advertising Solutions, Atigeo. It is based on pattern recognition technology that "finds patterns in disparate types of data," he says.

MyPageo is combining a number of elements to determine what content to feed into the sidebar. In addition to preferences and the obvious profile implied by the brand that led the user to the widget, there is the current content of the page. "As someone uses MyPageo and lands on particular page, we look at the data points in real time: the title of the page, descriptors and some body text, etc.," says Kapczynski. At the same time, the engine is also folding in patterns of behavior from others across the Internet. How have other consumers interacted with similar elements? He says the company is not using a cookie-based tracking approach. "We aren't storing and archiving. We are using [actions] in the moment to determine relevance."

MyPageo tries to give the consumer the sense that she controls the experience and the data. A pop-up window lets the user input new keywords to help refine the filtering and she can even designate filters for key content partners like Coupons.com and Accuscore (sports news). "It is all locked in for the consumer," says Kapczynski. "They get to control the thing. They determine how sites can interact with the information. It is not our data, but we help manage it for the consumers. Deal or No Deal does not get raw data. For the consumer, privacy is key. It is their data. We give the publishers roll-ups of aggregated reports to see data about the patterns and what variables triggered consumer actions."

IAB standard ad units are part of the product. For now, the first brand partner, Deal or No Deal, uses the space to push a direct link into Hulu for viewing show episodes and for other e-commerce offerings and links back into the show site. MyPageo and the media partners will be able to sell into the space eventually, and the same pattern recognition technology that drives the content feeds can be used to serve relevant ads based on content on the page as well as user profiles. "We can traffic one ad unit and have unlimited creative to be dynamically inserted as it is executed in real time," he says.

In theory, MyPageo seems to be overcoming some of the hurdles of leveraging user behaviors for greater targeting. By putting the benefits up front and more obviously under the control of the user, this product tries to turn a spy into an ever-ready valet who anticipates your desires. By distributing the widget through major media, the project overcomes the problem of having to build a brand for itself among consumers. And the content partnerships with the likes of Yahoo, Coupons.com and Accuscore offer publishers another distribution mechanism.

In practice, however, the value for the consumer still needs to prove itself. The downloadable solution at "Deal or No Deal" is a multi-step process with a modestly sized form to fill. The EULA and privacy notes are there for the asking, but the benefits of MyPageo are not spelled out in a compelling way. DOND fans surely will be attracted to having show-related information, but casual fans of the show may find that loud, relentless presence of a single show brand in the sidebar fairly tedious. We like Howie Mandel as much as the next guy, but all-Howie, all the time? In this first iteration of the sidebar, we see only two informational links squeezed between all of the branded promotions, and their contextual relevance to the current page sometimes is hard to decipher. The ad to content ratio feels about 50/50. If this is a servant of the user, it is not clear to this browser yet who the valet really is working for.

Growing pains aside, MyPageo is an interesting exercise in producing user targeting for the consumer. Finding ways to illustrate the benefits of more personalized content and ad serving is one of the chief challenges for the industry, to be sure. Balancing these interests against the needs of distribution and ad partners may be problematic. It is unclear how many of us want such a forcefully, singularly branded experience ever-present on the desktop. We love you, Howie. Really we do. But... .

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