Ever wonder why, when you’re Googling the Internet, certain advertisements appear on the computer screen as if they’re anticipating you?
It’s not an accident. Google knows which websites you visit and tailors ads according to what it thinks your interests might be.
Let’s say you’re a farmer surfing the Net. You might see herbicide ads on your screen. That’s because Google has identified you as someone who regularly visits agricultural websites.
It works this way. Google knows the websites its users visit. It harvests that information and sells service-of-delivery to advertisers who place ads specific to certain users. That’s why you receive the farm chemical ads. A teacher using the Internet might not get them, but you do.
The same applies if you have a Gmail account. Google knows the subjects of your e-mail messages and places appropriate ads on your Gmail page when you log in.
If that sounds like Big Brother watching you, get used to it.
An Alberta agricultural company recently obtained technology which identifies a location calling a website and then produces customized local information specific to that region.
AgCall, based in Calgary, recently acquired a technology company called Growth Stage to incorporate “GeoInfluencing” into its existing services.
AgCall employs so-called social marketing as a technique for its clients to advertise products and influence customers.
Social marketing, a discipline begun in the early 1970s, uses marketing strategies to affect behaviour by building relationships between organizations and clients.
Growth Stage takes that a step further by tailoring the information clients see on an Internet site to the region in which their IP address is based.
That might include crop conditions, weather patterns or sales on certain farm products in the area. Details for a farmer in Steinbach would be different than if the producer was from Birtle.
It’s information the company can share with the farmer in building a business relationship, according to Arron Madson, AgCall’s vice-president of sales and marketing.
“Essentially, by setting out a grid across all of Canada or all of North America, we can, within the specific parameters we’ve set, know where that person is calling from, and then custom tailor the information they’re getting.”
Madson described AgCall as an outsourcing company which matches agricultural clients with customers using “advocacy and peer influence tactics.”
Field staff (often other farmers in the area) interview potential customers to get information about them and develop a personal profile. Information might include: crops grown, products used, trends on the farm, views on agricultural topics, etc.
Interviews may be conducted in person, over the phone or, using Growth Stage, digitally.
The customer profile is then forwarded to the client company for use as market intelligence.
Madson emphasized clients do not violate personal confidences, nor do they keep secret files on customers. All information, although kept private, is collected above board, he said.
“We’re not in the business of collecting information that is to be made public. The information we collect is information they are willing to give to companies that they do business with.”
At the same time, it’s standard marketing procedure for retail companies to collect information on customers, said Madson.
“Every grower probably knows the companies they do business with try to gather information on them,” he said.
“It’s no different than if you go into a Mark’s Work Wearhouse or any sort of a retail store where they want to know your postal code and stuff at point of purchase. That’s so they can try to get a better understanding of who their customers are.
“At the end of the day, the growers still have the ability to control what information they give to the companies they’re dealing with.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada agreed organizations wanting to market their products or activities regularly collect data on their audiences to understand them better.
“Targeted advertising and marketing isn’t a new concept,” said communications director Anne-Marie Hayden.
“What’s important, though, is the manner in which the information is collected and whether or not consent has been obtained for the purposes for which the information has been collected, and that the information is then not being used for other purposes for which it has not been collected.”
A survey by the Privacy Commissioner early this year found Canadians are increasingly questioning retailers’ requests for personal information (e. g., name, phone number or postal code). It found 52 per cent of respondents resist such requests while 45 per cent refuse to provide the information altogether.
“We’re not necessarily seeing an outright refusal but we are seeing people being a bit more concerned that their information is being requested and being more active about questioning the companies that are asking for this information,” Hayden said. [email protected]