One Step Toward Disarmament

I've written quite a bit recently about how consumers increasingly require the commercial messages they are bombarded with to extend value to them. We've seen plenty of consumer backlash against advertising in all media. However, online advertising seems to be the hardest hit as consumers implement pop-up blockers, block and clear cookies, and use proxies to avoid advertising.

I may not have made it clear that the extension of value may be something as simple as increased relevance to the consumer's needs or lifestyles. One doesn't need to necessarily offer a discount, free gift, trial offer, or other freebie to get a consumer's attention. Breaking through the clutter of irrelevant advertising can happen when an ad is so relevant that the ad is seen as vital information rather than an intrusion.

A good example in my everyday life is the ads that appear in the guitar magazines I frequently buy at Penn Station for amusement on my long train ride home from work. Unlike the ads in most print publications I read, I spend time with the ads in Guitar World and other such mags.



They are largely perceived as content rather than advertising, because they keep me informed about the latest guitar gear when I'm in the mood to read about such things. Instead of quickly thumbing past these ads, I read every content element and gaze longingly at every picture. Wouldn't it be nice if advertisers could target ads in general interest publications this way, so that consumers would perceive that value in all or most of the ads they see?

One step toward this shift in perception of value is already taking place as I write this. The Claria Corporation is debuting a new ad network in the second quarter called BehaviorLink that will partner with site publishers to provide behavioral targeting.

BehaviorLink will offer IAB standard ad units on a variety of content sites, targeting ads to consumers based on their category interests, which are determined by observing behavior. Claria has assembled a team of privacy experts and consumer advocates to ensure that privacy protection controls are built in to the new network.

Consumer perception of value is significantly increased when ads are targeted by observed interest. Claria's research division, Feedback Research, recently conducted a study showing that response rates of ads targeted to consumers who demonstrated a category interest were up to 3,000 percent higher than run of site ads. The new network will not sell pop-up ads, which are another source of consumer frustration entirely.

It makes one wonder - what is possible in an online advertising marketplace where ads don't fight the consumer, but use intelligent targeting to ensure relevance and thus are seen as a valuable service? Could online ads buck the trend and one day actually appeal to consumers rather than repel them?

As a consumer, one day I would like to log onto my favorite Web sites and find ads that actually interest me, and are targeted to my mindset. I would like to avoid feeling the frustration of seeing the same pop-up ad for the umpteenth time and knowing that the advertiser was failing to take advantage of targeting technology in blanketing half the Internet with their ads. If we can get consumers to perceive ads as targeted and interesting to them in the vast majority of cases, perhaps we can be much closer to an end to the arms race.

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