Phil Bilbrough: Behavioural Targeting and Cool Discovery

Behavioural Targeting and Cool Discovery

By Phil Bilbrough

You’re at work, and as you do, you might take a 2 – 20 minute break to browse the net and catchup with who Amy Winehouse threw her handbag at, the latest Dancing with the Stars drop-out or hook-up rumour, a league/rugby player’s drink and fight/glass throw/drink and drive/drink and sexual allegation.

So your boss might not be watching, but somebody is. And that somebody wants to sell you something. Each time you go to an article on a website somebody is recording that click and then, the next time that you are browsing, the online ad is now about a rock concept coming to town, a travel offer to Ibiza, a reminder to vote for your favourite dancing star, and an online sport store where you can get a replica of your team’s shirt.

This is an online Behavioural Targeting scenario.

The hypothesis is that your browser behavior reflects your personality and gives clues to your next buying or purchase. Behaviour Targeting gives advertisers a way to deliver ads to those browsers who have shown interest in related items.

Behavioural targeting campaigns are mostly implemented by adserving companies.

These organizations store online advertisements (display ads or text ads) and deliver them or serve them to a webpage (based on media instructions) just when you want to view that page. The adserving companies implement, manage and provide the results of online advertising.

I predicted several years ago that adserving companies were going to take over the media world, that hasn’t happened. Google decided that they wanted the world to themselves, and they purchased a large adserving company called Doubleclick for a billion and something US$.

So these adserving companies and some sites currently offer advertisers behavioural targeting. Each site or adserver will probably use a different technology yet the core idea is that they track your movements on the web and then categorize you – yes YOU – into segments or interest groups based on your browsing behavior.

Those segments are then offered to advertisers and agencies to improve the effectiveness of their online campaigns. Your name or email address won’t be given out or anything. You’ve just been aggregated once more, and when you go online from that same computer from which you do most of your browsing the online ads that you see will be based on your previous browsing behaviour.

In simple terms you read an article about the Warriors Rugby league club and the next time your are browsing anywhere on the web, an ad appears selling Warriors merchandise.

The possibility of behaviour targeting has caused a privacy roar – not quite an uproar – there is some concern about a company tracking a person’s movements around the web.

There have been suggestions that an icon should appear on or near an ad to inform you that you are being tracked, or that this ad is a result of previous interaction, and if you click on the icon you get more information about the nature of the tracking. As an online advertising guy, I expected and have almost always expected that my browser movements were in some part being tracked.

Is this really big brother though? Yeah… well… no… maybe …

Does your website browsing behavior belong to you? Is someone taking something from you or exploiting you? Are they making a judgment about you? I’m less concerned about exposing my online behaviour, than with what this data may be used for.

I worry that it might cross from serving relevant ads to serving whole websites. I worry that on my home computer an adserver might confuse me with one of my kids and serve an adult ad on a tame site.

And I’m unconvinced about its likely effectiveness. Its unproven to me.

At this time there would be holes in any tracking data. If the tracking technology uses Cookies, then you first need to browse to a site that is part of an advertising network to get the tracking cookie into your browser (this is where Google will be very successful), but even if you do pickup a cookie (sounds like a kissing disease) you are able to delete cookies from your browser. If you do that, then the tracking stops.

If you share your computer, and use one profile, then the tracking data wouldn’t make sense of the different browsing behaviours. This would amount to poor data for the advertiser. On my home computer all family members use my Windows profile. So any analysis of tracking data from my home computer would have to resolve why I went from to

I think people’s online behaviours change and sometimes quickly. I mean this is the internet, so one afternoon you say “I might like to go to Australia.” And then in 10 minutes browsing you have everything that you need to make a decision. Five more minutes and you have booked. You may be on the plane before the behavior targeting even kicks in.

Nevertheless behaviour targeting is upon us. It’s stateside and probably already here.

At best you will see ads that are in tune with your thinking, at worst … I dunno… you might lose some control over your browsing. Either way I’m not convinced that in the small NZ market that it will add that much value to an advertiser, so the privacy issue may never more than an echo from the states.

The Discovery Channel

I tune into TV between 9:30pm and 11pm. My companions are two annoying cats, a cuppa tea and a pile of laundry that needs folding. Some cerebral stimulation is required – enough to keep me awake to complete the folding. Even that is a big ask of TV.

Fortunately there is the Discovery Channel. I never thought that I would end up here. Programmes like “Iditarod” , “Myth Busters”, “Deadliest Catch”, “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe”, (Mike Rowe is the best presenter on TV) “Storm Chasers” are great and I would never change the channel on the much less intellectual but hugely satisfying “Destroyed in Seconds.”

Nice site as well. I found this archive page of nice interactive stuff on it. Most of all I love their ads. They are preaching to the converted – anyway they are fun. Milk Truck, The World is Awesome, and Wonders Never Cease.


Phil Bilbrough is a freelance online advertising specialist who has recently begun blogging on the subject for Scoop at He can be contacted at

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