The Web has the potential of being a dream come true for marketers. Unlike television viewers, all Web surfers could be uniquely identified so they can be directly targeted by advertisers.
While this hasn't happened yet (at least not en masse), marketers and advertisers are continuously developing programs that seek to get as much information as they can from surfers so they can target specific ads to them.
Today, another site has launched to evolve personalization in advertising on the Web. Atlanta-based company Target One aims to create a large cooperative of Web sites that will allow it to sell highly targeted ads at once across several sites.
The goal is fairly lofty: "We're simply trying to develop a national database of lifestyles, interests, and hobbies that all Web sites [in the cooperative] can access regardless of their technology," said Target One CEO Kurt Kandler.
For instance, any one site might not have enough people in a certain demographic that an advertiser would like to reach (such as males interested in fishing). But an advertiser that is able to buy space on several sites at once could basically pick and choose the demographics they want.
Along with getting to surfers individually, Web sites also could use the information they get from Target One surveys to better understand their demographics and attract advertisers. Target One would get 15 percent of any ad sold using its database.
The idea is simple: Individual Web sites join the cooperative for free. They serve their users a Target One survey asking all sorts of demographic information. (Web sites can determine how to entice their users into surveys. Many will probably promise goods and prizes.) The respondents are given a unique identification tag that stays with them in the form of a cookie.
Each time that surfer goes to a different Target One site, he is asked to fill out a new survey. That information would be added to the existing survey. The more surveys a user fills out, the more detailed the profile becomes. Target One will further augment their databases with information about customers from existing databases. But Kandler insists that Target One will also protect privacy by giving customers the option of revealing information.
Unlike other services such as DoubleClick, Target One's database only includes people who volunteer to fill out surveys. Also, he said, Web sites can choose whether to participate with each ad.
But users who do participate will get ads--via email, banners, and traditional mail--so specifically targeted that they will most likely welcome them, according to Kandler.
Target One is far from the first company to offer targeted advertising. Several companies use prizes and other carrots to bribe surfers into filling out surveys that can be turned over to advertisers, who will use the information in their marketing efforts. At least one company doesn't offer money but simply operates on the principle that people will fill out surveys if they are promised very targeted ads.
Analysts think the concept could be very successful. The question is who can execute it best and fastest.
"I think it's a pretty interesting idea," said John Hearn, research analyst with Gartner Group "In terms of the overall market, no one's really collected a critical mass of data that will mean a lot to people in terms of traditional markets."
But, he added, "They're chasing after the same golden fleece as a bunch of other folks who would like to be the online equivalent of Nielsen. They want to collect information that they believe is representative of the preferences and behaviors of Web users as a means of helping customers target ads better or marketing methods or products."
For Target One, "the challenge is that they're not the first one out of the starting gate. They are not the only ones who want to do that and they don't necessarily have the optimal relationships to sell this data," Hearn said.