Behavioral targeting practices and NetInformer

For my face-to-face Friday tomorrow I will be discussing an interesting marketing tool that came up in an interview for my research yesterday. I was able to get an interview with George Mahoney, vice president of Media General.

Media General is a communications company that provides news through 25 newspapers and 22 different television studios. According to Mahoney, the company strives to “try to take our ability to connect to communities with traditional print and TV, and extend that using electronic services so that we are in the same communities that we were in before, but reaching people that aren’t reading papers or watching television.”

Media General uses social networking sites frequently to connect with consumers. Mahoney added a unique perspective to my research concerning privacy and social networks: “If I actually talk to a consumer and I ask them if they are out searching for something and would it be useful to them to have relevant ads on the subject, people will invariably say yes, but if you phrase it a different way and ask someone if they want people having information and using it to sell them things, people say: “No, I care about my privacy and I don’t want people sending me stuff.”

Mahoney explained that the only time Media General will ever use any personal information is for behavioral targeting purposes. The company does this using a tool called NetInformer. NetInformer is an opt-in tool that can be re-branded for different companies or individuals.

Mahoney offered an example for a possible use of this tool. One can go to a restaurant, and opt to give them an e-mail address. The restaurant owner can then send those customers e-mails about special discounts available from time-to-time. “So [the businesses] have people’s names, they give those names to us, and we are then the middleman who serves up those messages,” Mahoney said.

NetInformer has also been useful for companies that often lose their reliable consumer base—such as health clubs. Individuals buy memberships, use the facilities regularly for several months, and then often stop coming to the facility. Mahoney explained that NetInformer provided a way for the health club to continue communication with members by sending them health tips.

“These tips remind people about why they came in the first place. It is interesting for the advertiser to try to figure out what kinds of messages will really bring those people back in,” Mahoney said.

NetInformer is just one example of the way that advertisers are adapting their marketing methods.

It is interesting to think about the way questions are phrased—the idea of helpful ads appearing on a Web page that are relevant to something I am searching for seems useful. But on the other hand, the thought of companies obtaining information about me and using it to sell me products seems like an invasion of privacy.

Yahoo Behavioral Targeting is another tool used my Media General and other communications companies in order for them to understand ways to target consumers based on specific interests. The policy privacy on Media General’s Web sites clearly addresses various uses of personal information, stating that the company will only target users’ interests for advertising, not specific identifying features.

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Filed under COM530, Interactive Writing and Design

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