Think You've Got Me Pegged? Think Again.

I'll admit it: I'm not much of a Behavioral Insider. Behavioral Observer might be a better description. There's an anthropological connotation to the label that I suppose is fitting for a journalist type such as myself charged with commenting on an industry I've only viewed as an onlooker rather than an insider. Yet, despite my lack of insider experience, I've always felt qualified to opine about advertising and marketing. After all, I've been targeted by it my entire life.

Oh, and while I'm in honesty mode, I may as well reveal something else: I don't like advertising. At best it's a necessary evil that helps keep the free market machine humming, and on rare occasions satisfies a particular need at an appropriate time. At worst, it's an obnoxious cacophony of sights and sounds that I wish would leave me alone already.

Then there's behavioral targeting (BT). It's a special breed of marketing strategy. Part science, part intuition, BT is as much its own unique form of targeting as it is inherent to all forms. At best, it's a customized and timely appeal to a specific need when it's most appropriate. At worst, well, it's an uninvited intrusion, an infringement on my privacy, and an affront to my individualism.

Behavioral targeting companies promise to get the right ads to the right people. They go beyond tired demographic, geographic, or contextual targeting, compiling a more robust profile of consumers based on their real-time online actions. But if Tacoda or Poindexter or AlmondNet or Revenue Science or any of the other BT firms vying for advertisers' dollars these days have, in fact, collected data on me, does that randomly gleaned information actually represent me -- or more important - do those data truly indicate the stuff I want?

Perhaps somewhat of an anomaly, my Web usage is about 95 percent work-oriented, 5 percent recreational. As a freelance writer working from home and generally covering online advertising and technology companies, it's understandable that if I'm online, I'm probably working. To keep up with various industry niches I scan plenty of trade pubs like Adweek, MarketingVox, and yes, MediaPost. But I'm not in the ad business, nor am I a marketer making business decisions about software or media buys. I keep up on various tech firms and issues on sites like The Register, eWeek.com, and Wired, but I'm not by nature a technically-inclined person, and by no stretch of the imagination am I a gadget freak. (In fact, I'm of that nearly extinct species that has yet to own a cell-phone and prefers vinyl to CDs and MP3s. My idea of a good gadget is a well-designed carrot peeler.) So, if BT pegs me as a techie or an entrepreneur, that's high-CPM ad money down the drain.

But that's not to say my Web behavior in the past few months hasn't reflected the fact that I'm in the market for particular goods and services. Recently, I've visited Epicurious.com, FoodNetwork.com, Sears.com, Faucet.com, and the Home Depot, Armstrong, and Thomasville Cabinets Web sites. Yep - you guessed it: I'm renovating my kitchen and I'll actually be using it for - get this - cooking. Kitchen appliance retailers could score a sale if they use BT to shoot me an offer right about now. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Then again, while I reluctantly appreciate ads that come around at the right time, I'm not so sure it's worth having my Web interactions tracked to enable them, despite the good intentions of the folks in the BT industry and their insistence that personally-identifiable data is off limits.

In this Behavioral Insider role, I don't intend to be a BT cheerleader nor a detractor, but more of an open-minded devil's advocate with a raised eyebrow and a whole lotta questions. I'm especially interested in hearing from all you actual Behavioral Insiders out there; please don't hesitate to contact me to fill me in on your thoughts about industry issues. Just don't try to sell me an iPod.

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