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MSN adCenter a Demographic Profile

TORONTO -- The holy grail of search marketing is to deliver the right ad to the right person at the right time. But is reaching that goal worth the price of user privacy?

Using a mix of analytics and user demographics, Microsoft may well be further along on the quest of search ad nirvana than other search vendors.

In a session at Search Engine Strategies here on targeting search ads, Jason Bailey Search Media Strategist at Microsoft gave the standing-room-only crowd a demonstration of how Microsoft is using user demographics to fuel its new adCenter platform.

The MSN adCenter is Microsoft's answer to Yahoo Overture and Google AdWords. It has been live in France and Singapore since September and a U.S. pilot has been active since October.

With MSN adCenter, advertisers can find out from a demographic point of view who the people are that are searching for a particular term. They can also find out geographic, as well as time-based information about the searchers.

Bailey explained that with adCenter, advertisers can target their ads by day of the week and also by specific time of day.

"Targeting and audience-intelligence tools are powerful because they let you create very surgical search campaigns," Bailey said. "You can be very specific about the type of person you are looking for how and when you are reaching them and making sure that they are converting well."

It's not just about strategic information allowing advertisers to help plan campaigns, but it also works on a very tactical level on a case-by-case Search, as well.

For example, Bailey noted that you can actually do something called a "Bid Boost," raising the value of a bid by a predetermined percentage, when adCenter recognizes that the searcher is from your desired user demographic.

Bailey did not address where Microsoft was actually getting its demographic information from during his presentation. It was only in response to an audience question that the Microsoft spokesperson admitted that the information is actually pulled based on users' Microsoft Passport accounts.

Microsoft Passport is a unified single sign-on solution that powers many Microsoft services, including Hotmail and MSN Messenger, and is part of their new Windows Live services.

Kevin Lee, executive chairman and co-founder of Did-it.com, told the audience that it shouldn't be too stunned that Microsoft Passport information is being used in this way.

"It's a good thing for everybody," Lee said. "I'm just hoping that the press doesn't exclusively focus on the big brother aspect of it given the fact that people voluntarily provide this information."

"These are users that did in fact click 'yes' to a 3,000 word terms of service agreement."

Microsoft may not necessarily be alone in utilizing user demographic data for advertising purposes either. Andrew Goodman, principal of Page Zero Media, noted that, though Google does not have a similar product, they could easily do the same thing.

"Their privacy policy certainly allows them to pull a lot of searcher behavior," Goodman said.

Potentially an increase in Google's utilization of cookies could be an indication that it is ramping up its targeting efforts. Lee commented that Google is now using more cookies than in the past, though it is partially for the search personalization option but it could also be used for other purposes.