When ad targeting is by users’ choice

When ad targeting is by users’ choice
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First Published: Tue, Sep 09 2008. 10 50 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Sep 10 2008. 10 47 PM IST
Stealth surfing is now out in the open. I am referring, of course, to the InPrivate features introduced by Microsoft Corp. on its Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) that online publishers, marketers and ad servers fear could block their attempts to distribute, track and monetize online ads.
The InPrivate browsing feature is nicknamed “porn mode” since it allows users to surf porn or any other site without IE8 storing the urls visited, cookies, data, etc. This leaves no browsing history which advertisers need to serve ads to behaviourally relevant audiences. Advertisers are, however, more worried about the InPrivate blocking feature which provides users the ability to control which third-party websites are allowed to serve content (or ads) and, equally as important, which ones they choose to block. This could potentially block not only sites that track users’ browsing paths, but also analytics companies that audit ad views and clicks, say experts.
Roy de Souza, founder of the third largest ad sever, Zedo, in San Francisco, explains that normally when a user visits a site, the browser uses cookies to remember which sites the user visited and which ads he/she saw. This allows sites to say “Welcome back, Mr X” and provide similar personalized content. “It also allows ad servers, such as Zedo, to make sure that users do not see the same ad repeatedly and see ads relevant to them. If websites and ad servers could no longer do this, this would fundamentally change the Internet for Internet users. They would see less personalized sites and less interesting advertising,” de Souza says.
He doesn’t see ad targeting getting hit by InPrivate, though. His reasoning: This IE8 feature is designed for Internet users to use for short periods of time. This feature is therefore unlikely to have a big effect on websites or advertising. Users generally prefer to get relevant personalized websites and ads so it is unlikely that browsers will prevent this in the future.
Online experts such as Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director, digital services, OgilvyOne Worldwide India, however, reckon that ad targeting will get affected and that InPrivate browsing is a definite wake-up call to advertisers who haven’t gone beyond the banner. “More worrying is the prospect for third-party audit mechanisms such as ad servers, though, as even their code can be blocked. As to usage, my belief is that there will be a huge uptake to this mode of browsing (even though it is not default) just because of the beta buzz around the mode being called ‘porn mode’,” Mohanachandran says.
Users can decide if they want content and ads targeted at them, instead of having content willy-nilly served to them. They can also better customize their browsing experience, and switch off InPrivate when surfing Amazon, for example, if they wish to receive information or updates.
Expect InPrivate to unleash a wave of anti-marketing features in the browsing space, which will inspire a spate of innovations in online branded content, in-video branding and sponsorships. Browsing will also become more personalized; for example, Microsoft ’s new Web Slices feature is in beta mode on IE8 and enables users to subscribe to content directly within a Web page.
Web Slices behave just like feeds in that users can subscribe to them and receive update notifications when the content changes. With a click in the Favourites bar, users see rich Web Slices visuals and developers can forge an enduring end-user connection.
“If last year was about widgets, then this year it’s Web Slices,” declares Mohanachandran, who sees this as a branding and relationship-building opportunity for marketers of all profiles. EBay has built a Web Slice that enables users to monitor an auction and Microsoft is working with partners to create more.
Meanwhile, firms such as Google Inc.’s DoubleClick that are based on behavioural ad targeting will have to modify their business models. And while Google’s new browser, Chrome, is being painted as a challenge to Microsoft’s browser, Mohanachandran reckons that Google should also continue supporting Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox which has about 20% of the browser market after Microsoft IE’s 72%. He questions the market share Chrome can ultimately get as it’s a late entrant, adding that Google is perceived more as a marketing machine than technology innovator these days.
Comments from Microsoft India were not available till this newspaper went to press.
Click here to read all of Marion Arathoon’s earlier columns
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at advalue@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Sep 09 2008. 10 50 PM IST