Contact: Reading the Stars

To Cantor Fitzgerald, foresight is 20/20. The financial services firm is peddling Virtual Specialist, a proprietary technology it says will help marketers more accurately predict consumer behavior. It's based on the company's nine-year-old Hollywood Stock Exchange, an online virtual marketplace in which users buy and sell "shares" of celebrities or movie titles (for example, a star's value shifts according to his or her relative success). Film studios use data gathered from the exchange to tweak their marketing plans.

Apparently it works. The exchange correctly predicted every major category-winner in this year's Oscars.

"Active buying and selling involves decisions and perceptions, and if you have enough people perceiving the same thing, that's a trend," says Ron Thomson, president of Cameron Thomson Group, the Toronto-based firm that is marketing the product in the United States and Canada.

Thomson says the concept can be applied to just about any industry or brand. He's also toying with the idea of a virtual exchange to keep tabs on the price and availability of media inventory. "Being able to buy and sell inventory virtually could be a great benefit to planners and buyers in executing their strategies," he says.

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