Imagine if companies actually used the data they gather about you. I mean, what would happen if they actually surprised you with messages and promotions targeted to your taste and prior purchases. Wouldn't it be great if next time you go to the Benetton store, they could figure out that you're a good customer to me by sales volume and items purchased? And if they actually stocked sizes on the basis of seasonal purchases by their frequent customers.
But I digress with possibilities. Personalization is about to hit the runway big time. According to David A. Kenney, the CEO of Publics Groupe unit Digitas in a recent article by The New York Times, it's only a matter of time before nearly all ads around the world are digital.
“Our intention with Digitas and Publicis is to build the global platform that everybody uses to match data with advertising messages,” Mr. Kenny said. “There is a massive transformation happening in the way consumers live and the data we have about them, but very few companies have stepped up to it yet.”
The idea is to move away from mass advertising to mass personalization. Does that mean that (1) I will only see elegant Toyota, Maserati and BMW car ads in my mailbox? Or does it mean that (2) I will see the elegant parts of every other product on the planet as interpreted by the people behind data gathering and extracting? Somehow scenario number two seems to be more likely.
The article cites the response to competition among Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft as partly the reason for the move into digital by Publicis. The agency bets on these companies wanting to remain in the medium vs. getting into the agency business. The bets so far seem to be headed towards online advertising. regardless. Google with DoubleClick and Microsoft with aQuantive.
If personalization is the name of the game, then learning as much as possible about people has a point -- it will be used to target versions of messages. According to an article on Information Week (IW), the same three suspects, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are in fact working on developing next-generation technologies that automate and personalize information search.
Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and dozens of search specialists, including those catering to business customers, are racing to develop next-generation technologies that do a better job of getting people the information they seek. With emerging tools, people will no longer have to dumb down their queries with the pidgin language understood by first-generation search engines. They'll be able to ask questions in English and other languages--or pose no question at all and automatically receive results based on their earlier queries or the applications they're using.
Ah, but the data can also be used to target advertising better. iGoogle, do you? That's how the company continues to learn about my reading preferences thus extracting topics, names of companies, products, etc. And of course we have social bookmarking and tagging, shared searches and shared systems -- think of Yahoo and its new acquisition Deli-cio.us. Tagging and bookmarking so far have their drawbacks as they attract spammers and (apparently) SEO abusers.
One of the comments on the IW article makes a lot of sense: it will be a while before computers can accurately judge the meaningfulness of page content -- determining a site ranking based solely on number of page views is just not useful. How long people stay on a site's pages as Nilesen/NetRating has switched to measuring when ranking sites, may be more meaningful. Well, I know I ask a lot of my readers and many do spend an average of 4:30 minutes on my blog, according to Google Analytics and view 1.5 pages.
If meaning takes precedence then what about consumers creating their own ads? I met the folks at XLNTads while at blog|Philadelphia. They offer a combination of brand guidance and creative community interaction for video ads. Companies may guide the creative process by making available the brand assets they define as well as creating participation guidelines. Consumers (ad creators and site visitors) will have opportunities to learn from the brand and professional advertisers and to interact with one another.
This would steer towards high-quality submissions on one hand and the best chance to get the attention on a company selected brand. On the other, peer ratings of ads, ideas and tips offered by producers and film and ad educators may provide the desired incentive to do great work.
The best of both worlds? You tell me. Which is better: targeted to you or made by you?
[Image of Times Square uploaded to Flikr by Tjeerd Wiersman from Amsterdam]