By Joanna Glasner
SAN FRANCISCO -- Picture this: You're shopping online for a new minivan, surfing automaker websites and buying guides. You then head to the homepage of your local paper to check out the headlines, and at the top of the page is an ad for a local car dealer, offering rebates and low financing on new minivans.
If you're like many web users, you probably find it creepy that your local paper knows you're looking for new wheels. Even so, advertisers are betting you're far more likely to click on the car dealer's ad than a random banner for a dating site or DVD rentals.
That's the theory behind behavioral marketing -- a growing niche in the online advertising industry focused on targeting promotional messages to an individual's online activities. Some might call such tracking across websites by a less flattering name: adware. Marketers call it a promising revenue stream.
Behavioral marketing was a prominent buzzword at this week's Ad:Tech conference in San Francisco. The conference, held in the midst of a boom period for internet ad sales, devoted considerable resources to identifying ways for online publishers to generate bigger profits from advertising. Many of the most popular strategies involved mining more information about individuals.
Targeted marketing is nothing new in the online world, as anyone who's ever received personalized book recommendations from Amazon.com can attest. However, by recording peoples' movements over networks of web properties rather than just individual sites, some marketers are betting that they will be able to improve response rates to online ad campaigns dramatically.