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MSN PPC Advertising Behavioral and Demographic Targeting: Killer App. or Achilles' Heel?

Additional Reading

MSN PPC Advertising Behavioral and Demographic Targeting: Killer App. or Achilles' Heel?

Joel Walsh

Privacy advocates, bloggers, and many people's own low tolerance level for creepiness may damage not just the advertising program but MSN itself.

MSN PPC Advertising Demographic & Behavioral Targeting Features Overview

The coolest thing about the new MSN PPC advertising network is that it will incorporate demographic information and "behavioral targeting"--at least that's what many bloggers in the marketing field seem to think. MSN will be the only search engine advertising program that lets advertisers know roughly what proportion of users who search on a particular keyword are interested in certain market segments, as well as those searchers' demographic breakdown. For instance, MSN might tell you that most of the searchers on the keyword "monster truck rally" appear to be women aged 50-65, and that they also generally appear to be interested in auto racing and auto parts, but are not more likely than other searchers to buy an automobile online.

How will MSN know so much about searchers? Ah, that's the interesting part... MSN has quietly been assembling and sorting this information for years in preparation for this venture. That is, it uses cookies to track individual users' web browsing at the MSN portal--just as every other business website does. Presumably it will also connect the data with information from user profiles from MSN's .NET passport and Hotmail, in order to determine searchers' demographic information such as sex and occupation.

Potential resistance to MSN's demographic and behavioral marketing

Now, if you use the MSN Search, and you also have a .NET passport and/or Hotmail account (as you probably do, even if you've forgotten ever signing up for it back in 1998 when you wanted a free email address to sign up to read the New York Times online), all your searches may be matched up with your user information from your .NET passport or Hotmail account--and will be, even if the information is kept separate from your personally identifying information.

If you actually were honest on your application to those services, that information may include your address, average annual income, personal interests, and a lot of other juicy bits of information any self-respecting marketer or voyeur would love to have. Even if you weren't honest, at the very least it might include the addresses of the people you have exchanged emails with, your IM buddies, and just which newsletters you've signed up for and whice you're sending to the junk email folder.

Future implications for search engine advertising

Of course, Microsoft Corporation has such a sterling reputation in the internet community and the world at large that it will undoubtedly be trusted implicitly with such a wealth of information on every user. And most people have absolutely no reason to care if their online activity were associated with their real identities, anyway.

True, it is widely believed that almost a quarter of all web page views and a comparable proportion of search engine searches involve naughtynaughty pictures. But surely that's the work of a small army of trench-coat-wearing filth addicts who spend all day doing nothing but feed their habit, and on multiple computers simultaneously. Certainly not you, any of your family members, or that guy in the shipping department who wears a WWJD T-shirt to work everyday and is always trying to convince anyone in earshot that dinosaurs and the radioactive dating of their fossils are yet another figment of the degenerate left-wing imagination.

So naturally, Microsoft has nothing to worry about. Privacy advocates, bloggers, message boards and chat rooms around the internet won't be on fire with warnings not to use MSN search unless you want a permanent record of your doings attached to that Hotmail account you deleted but that may not have really been deleted. And no prosecutor will make headlines by trying to introduce a defendant's MSN online activity history as evidence into court.

And so it naturally follows that we can all forget about Overture and Google Adwords since there's a new kid on the block who's so much cooler.

Previous page: Background of new MSN PPC Advertising Network

If you're interested in reading further, one of the most extensive discussions of MSN's new advertising program is the marketing blog of Charlene Li at the Forrester corporation. That blog is representative of the rose-colored-glasses view held by the big corporate marketing world. Microsoft's press release announcing the new MSN advertising program is also worth reading if you're that into this.

About the author

Joel Walsh is the head writer at UpMarket, internet marketing services, online copywriting services, & website content provider focusing on small and medium-sized businesses and those who serve them.


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