UK ISPs Take A Slice Of Internet Advertising Market

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 by Mistlee

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UK ISPs Take A Slice Of Internet Advertising Market

By Scott Boyd

Not sure if this old news or not but interesting all the same if you haven't read about it yet. The NYTimes reported last month that 3 UK Internet providers (BT, Carphone Warehouse and Virginmedia) are teaming up to offer an advertising alternative to that offered by the big 3 search engines.

The 3 companies have allowed ad company, Phorm, to access customers browsing records in order to serve relevant ads to any website publisher wishing to join the scheme. The proceeds would then be shared between Phorm, the 3 Internet providers and the website publisher.

From the article:

A marketer that wants to reach wealthy golfers, for instance, would not have to restrict itself to advertising on golf sites. Because the ad system would track golfers' Web habits, it could follow them to other sites and show them golf-related ads there, too.

Queue Homer-esque response, "ewwwwww"!

OK, I have mixed feelings about this. As a website owner, SEO and marketing professional having revenue and advertising alternatives is pretty good, but I really don't know how comfortable I am being tracked at that level. Although the article does say that customers of the ISPs involved will be able to opt out of the scheme (and will only be tracked by unique ID and not personal information), it still doesn't sit very well with me.

Esther Dyson (tech analyst and investor) noted;

Bombarding consumers with more and more ads, even "relevant" ones, risks sending them to social networking services and other places on the Internet where advertisers find it harder to reach them.

That's a fair point to a certain degree, although I think if Esther had more knowledge of the SEM industry she might consider whether or not social network traffic is that hard to reach for advertisers. :)

Small guy might be missing out here

Just going through the signup process at Phorm, I see they start their publisher info request form with traffic details - smallest on the list is 500k - 1 million - so it would seem they are targeting higher traffic sites or possibly networks. I sent in an enquiry and will post back with some info when it arrives.

The demo seems quite interesting from an advertising point of view though. The example given on the Phorm site explains the process for advertisers. You can for example, choose to display ads for a Paris hotel only to users who had browsed French travel sites using the keywords "France" and "Paris" (on page), at least 3 times in the past 30 minutes.

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That opens up a world of options for advertisers - instead of customising a few campaigns with vague targeting on Adwords, you can customise entire campaigns to target users at different stages of the decision making process. Frequent browsing could equate to a greater intent to buy - therefore you can target your juicy sales pages to these people. On the other hand, infrequent browsing could indicate an interest in a new area, allowing you to target more subtle, informational pages at potentially new customers.

It also means we could target different types of customers who are looking for the same service. A potential new client with no previous SEO services and an existing client of a competitor looking to change supplier could very well browse different types of sites, looking for different types of information - why not tailor campaigns specifically to each customer type?

However, the one constraint with a system like this is scope. They have the technology to run the system on - they have the user data to sell to advertisers - do they have the content network to justify such a large remit? That's where small website publishers could really make or break the campaign.

Last note on this - one cool feature is that publishers can dictate a threshold fee for their ad real estate (i.e. a minimum price advertisers pay to advertise on the site). I like the sound of that.

Any thoughts on either being able to track and market users at this level, or being tracked and marketed to like this?


About the Author:
Scott Boyd (aka Marketing Guy) is an Edinburgh based online marketing consultant with over 6 years experience in the industry. He is the founder of SEO agency eFlaunt, where he mixes a blend of traditional marketing and SEO. Scott's musings relating to the marketing and SEO industries can be found on his blog - Fused Nation.

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