AOL’s Penguin: “Behavioral Targeting No Problem”

    March 10, 2008

Some people know about behavioral targeting, and some people don’t.  To educate this second group (and perhaps make the first feel less threatened), AOL intends to explain the practice with a cartoon penguin.

AOL's Penguin: Behavioral Targeting No Problem
    Mr. Penguin Visits

This is too odd to make up, so to simply quote from an upcoming ad: "Mr. Penguin visits  An ad company sends a cookie to Mr. Penguin’s computer, recording his visit.  Mr. Penguin later visits for a weather update.  The ad company reads the cookie to display a relevant ad."

The text is accompanied by pictures of a penguin surfing the Web, of course, and the penguin looks extremely surprised to see an ad for anchovies appear on his news site.

In an interview with Louise Story, Jules Polonetsky, the chief privacy officer for AOL, explained the thought process behind this ad.  "Are people going to stop and read a detailed technical explanation?  When they just want to get their mail?"  Or, the implication follows, are they going to pay attention to a penguin?

The launch of the campaign is a few weeks away, according to Story, so it’ll be a while before we see what happens.  In the meantime, we’re taking estimates as to how many focus groups AOL brought together before landing on a penguin.