Clever Title About Communication and Advertising


An interesting convergence of press in the past couple of days. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal (and a number of other outlets) noted that Microsoft is getting more interested in behavioral targeting:

Here’s how it works: If someone types in “compare car prices” on Live Search, Microsoft’s computers note that the person is probably considering buying a vehicle. The computers then check with the list of Hotmail accounts to see if they have any information on the person. If they do, and an auto maker has paid Microsoft to target this type of person, the computer will automatically send a car ad when she next looks at a Microsoft Web page. As a result, people should see more ads that are of interest to them.

On today, we get Steve Ballmer’s thoughts on what will be happening with technology in 2007 and beyond, which included this thought:

In 2007, I believe that phone numbers and e-mail addresses will begin to give way to a single identity, and the desktop phone will merge with the PC and mobile phone. Messages will be routed to you on a device that will be smart enough to know whether you can be interrupted based on what you are doing and who the message is from. Instead of being ruled by e-mail and cellphones, we’ll have control over when and how we can be reached, and by whom. [emphasis mine]

Now just to make it clear, I don’t have any problems with behavioral targeting — as long as it’s done well and in a way that allows me to see and manage the data being used, I’d much rather have someone trying to show me ads that I’ll find interesting than someone just throwing totally random crap in front of me.

What strikes me as strange, though, is the implicit suggestion here that people should “have control over when and how we can be reached, and by whom,” but that companies should decide what advertising is most appropriate for those people. The tacit assumption that advertising is somehow qualitatively different from all other communication.

I’m probably reading too much into the correlation in time for these two articles, but it’s still interesting. And it’s also why I find VRM such an interesting idea right now…the “R” is for “relationship,” after all.