Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

A Web Ad That Tells You It's Stalking You

There’s a big debate about privacy and online advertising, and the personal data marketers use to hunt down the customers they’re trying to capture.

So here’s a Web ad campaign that cuts to the chase, and simply tells you up front that it’s stalking you.

And the chances are very, very high that you’re not going to care.

That’s because the ads come from AdExchanger.com, a very niche (and very good) trade publication that focuses exclusively on ad technology. And the only way you’re going to see the ads will be if you’ve visited AdExchanger.

And that means that you’re almost certain to understand and embrace concepts like “retargeting”–following a prospective customer from site to site using electronic tracking signals.

Which is why AdExchanger’s campaign comes right out and tells you that it’s using retargeting to serve up the banner ads–its an in-joke.


Again, anyone who’s seen the ads in their natural habitat understands what’s going on here, but to spell it out:

  • AdExchanger’s John Ebbert–he’s the publisher, editor, janitor, etc. for the one-man operation–sets an electronic “cookie” on his site.
  • That allows Google’s AdWords service to find browsers (it isn’t actually able to identify people, a fact that’s important for Ebbert and everyone else in ad tech right now) that have visited the site. Then it serves those browsers ads when they visit other sites.
  • The ad campaign is designed to remind people to come back to AdExchanger, and/or visit its Facebook page.

“It was an interesting opportunity to use retargeting to have a conversation about a conversation,” Ebbert says. And to use one of the oldest marketing techniques in the book–get people to give you free advertising by talking about your advertising.

Meanwhile, a side note for “content creators” trying to figure out how to make a living: Consider thinking small.

That’s what Ebbert has done here, and it’s working very well for him. AdExchanger is microscopic by Web publishing standards–it attracts a mere 35,000 unique visitors per month–but that’s all he needs to make a living in Manhattan.

That’s because that audience of 35,000 includes every single person in the ad technology industry, more or less. And because that industry is so red-hot right now–VCs are pouring money into the business, and start-ups are vying for the attention of potential acquirers like Google, Yahoo and AOL–he’s able to do just fine selling sponorships at rates much bigger sites could never land.


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