Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advertisers Target, Close Grip on YOU

I suppose that we have two choices, really.

At one extreme, we can move to Tibet or Montana. We can buy a manual typewriter and begin our lives off the grid.

Or we can succumb to the grid. If you think about it long enough, you'll realize that the grid is not all that different than the Matrix.

If you're reading this, you're on the grid. And if you're on the grid, someone is tracking your movements. They know where you are, where you've been, and where you are likely to go.

When I teach about database marketing in the principles of advertising class, students often are amazed at how much information the grid knows about them. The grid is getting more clever, too.

In an Associated Press story this morning on titled "Ad targeting improves as Web sites track consumer habits," I have learned some new tricks of the grid.

If I use a commercial search engine to look for a restaurant, then it is most likely that I live close to that restaurant. As I search for several businesses in the same vicinity, then it becomes pretty easy to figure out about where I live. Then all of a sudden, the ads in my Web browser start to target to me.

Your opinions about this can range from "clever marketing" to "totalitarian Amerika takeover." The truth, as usual, is likely somewhere in between.

Next year, I intend to travel to Canada. So I might start searching things about Canadian cities. Based upon that, the search engines can learn that I live in Texas and want to travel to Canada. Now I start seeing ads for plane fares between Texas and Canada. Cool or chilling?

Allow me to digress for a moment.

My wife and I quasi-recently saw the movie Wild Hogs (which we loved, by the way -- see a review here). Now, I am not a motorcycle person. But I was curious about a few things after seeing the movie, so I did some Googling.

For the next two weeks, one of the technology-related Web sites that I visit had nothing but Harley-Davidson banner ads. I found that really curious. Coincidental? Perhaps.

And here's the biggest problem. Right now, I am writing to you on Blogger, which is owned by Google. So right there in the upper right corner of the screen is my e-mail address. Google need not guess who I am based upon restaurant searches (had to look up the address of Schlotsky's on Friday) because it knows exactly who I am.

So just a minute ago, I had to look up the Web address for Harley-Davidson to include the link. I opened up a new browser window and punched in "". What do you think was in the upper right corner of the Google screen? My e-mail address!

I used to wonder why Google allowed me to blog for free. No longer.

Allow me to digress once again.

For the past few weeks, I have been thinking that I should eventually return to the Apple Macintosh platform. I cannot tell you exactly why I have been thinking that, but I have. There are lots of reasons, of course. There are also lots of reasons to stay PC -- how I love thee, MATLAB. But I have had this growing feeling that eventually I will switch back.

Returning to the story that started this all, the advertisements on my page are all about Macintosh's new OS X Leopard software.

Coincidence? Probably. But I'll never know. And I'll wonder.

But is it bad?

I am pretty agnostic about this. As I said, I am interested in the Mac these days. So if I have to suffer through an advertisement, it might as well be for something relevant to me. That seems good, I think.

There also seems to be some safety in numbers. Sure, the database marketing companies know a lot about me. Sure, my TiVo sells me out every night while I am sleeping. But seriously, there are 300,000,000 of us. Who really cares what I -- as me -- am doing?

And mostly I am pretty comfortable with this. But I did see Amerika in 1987, so it does freak me out just a little bit. Because if someone did want to know, they probably could.

There's a lot of wiretapping and such going around these days. Our distance from the former East German Secret Police seems only a difference in degree rather than a distance in kind. Having the records, after all, is a necessary first step in misusing them.

If you'll excuse me now, I need to go search for a cabin in Montana ... just not online.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

you mean fares? ;)

4:59 PM  
Blogger Samuel D. Bradley said...

Damned homonyms!

5:09 PM  

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