Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Highly Targeted = Highy Compensated?

Yesterday, I outed myself as the man, er.... android masquerading as Highly Targeted on eBay last summer.

I was trying to prove out my thesis that putting cash directly in consumers' pockets was the best way to get them comfortable sharing their data and, in turn, deliver "highly targeted" marketing messages to them.

My initial auction drove quite a bit of buzz in the industry.

It was picked up on the Oldtimer's List and AdRants ran the story, "Man Sells Non-Personally Identifiable Information to Marketers on eBay," suggesting that "Consumer Auctions" might be the wave of the future. also featured a byline by Alan Chapell, "Making Data Integration the Rule," which covered my auction and its implications on the issues of data portability and privacy.

Highly Sought-After

After 1,071 views and 17 bids, my auction finally closed at $355 (which was all donated to Susan G. Komen) with Steve Wax of Campfire Media emerging victorious over Mr. Chapell.

However, rather than target ads to me on behalf of marketers, Steve and the gang at Campfire created a game show using my data to come up with marketing-related questions that I had to answer (anonymously, of course.)

While I had a lot of fun playing around with the Campfire crew, I still did not have a proof of concept. I needed to know if marketers would buy my data for the purposes of serving ads to me and if the non-PII data I was sharing was good enough to make for a mutually beneficial transaction.

It At First You Don't Succeed...

So I listed another auction and this time Chapell was the only bidder, winning my data for the $100 minimum. He then looked to bring more attention to the issues of data privacy with a satirical piece in iMedia. Asking marketers, "Would You Pay $1 For This Man's Data?", Chapell offered to resell my data, clearly violating the terms I had stated in my auction.

Fortunately, no one took Chapell up on his offer but it goes to show how unscrupulous marketers could potentially disrupt even the best laid plans of mice and men, er... androids.

In the end, Chapell never ended up doing anything with my data but, hey, at least the transaction was tax deductible for him!

Third Time's the Charm?

Looking to capitalize on the momentum Chapell built up, I wrote an article of my own for iMedia titled, "Don't Buy My Data Unless It's From Me."

While I was pleased to have raised $455 for Susan G. Komen and excited about the industry buzz, I still did not have my proof of concept. Would a "real" marketer be willing to pay for access to my data? And would they be able to use my non-PII to create effective ads for me?

Tipping the Scale

In the end, my 3rd auction closed with no bids and my 5 minutes of fame, er... anonymity ended.

While I still believe the concept of paying cash to consumers in exchange for their data has legs, the bottom line is that, without scale, there's very little value for marketers.

Why would a marketer shell out $100 or more before seeing my data? That's a big bet to place without knowing if I'm even in their target audience.

I guess I was secretly hoping that an ad network or agency representing a variety of clients might cough over the cashish knowing that, whatever my profile turned out to be, they'd have a marketer that would be a fit.

I think what it came down to was that noone wanted to bother trying to figure out how to interpret consumer data and customize ads accordingly on a one-off basis. Had there been thousands or millions of data profiles like mine available for purchase, it might be a different story.

The lesson here is that, just like with any other emerging digital media play, without the scale to deliver critical mass against a wide swath of consumers, marketers will take a wait-and-see approach. Especially in today's economically-challenged (is that what we're calling it now?) environment.

And Which is the Way That's Clear?

So where do we go from here? Well, now that I've come out of the Highly Targeted closet, I plan to be more vocal about the need to find alternatives to 3rd-party cookie-based targeting platforms.

And I have a few ideas about what those might look like. If you'd like to know more, please contact me.

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