Could you see Google AdWords and other PPC ads with your name in the title?

How would you like to be doing a Google search and suddenly realize the ads are not just targeted to the search…. but actually have your Google account username right in the AdWords ad title, dynamically targeted to your name?


Well, this could potentially become a reality, according to the New York Times Bits blog.

Google told me that they “might” have the technology be able to serve such ads that show your Google user name, and that they have no current privacy rule against it.

I am probably not the only one who would look at it pretty suspiciously if I noticed a search for a set of Lost DVDs turned up an ad that was targeting my username. Because in all the privacy issues Google has been facing, dynamically inserting my username into an ad would bring behavioral targeting to an extreme – and very obvious – level.

That said, behavioral targeting isn’t a bad thing from many perspectives, but many people are creeped out from the “big brother is watching” level. Generally, behaviorally targeted ads convert better for advertisers, but those doing behavioral targeting aren’t blatant about it from a “Hey, Jen, lookee here, we know who you are!” level. They are targeting based on things like previously visited websites and personal interests, so while they may know a lot about me as Joe Surfer, they don’t know I am actually Jennifer Slegg Surfer. But Google using this kind of targeting would know that I am not Joe Surfer but actually Jennifer Slegg Surfer, and could even potentially use such data as my set home location in Google maps to get even more specific geo-targeting that IP alone cannot do as well as perhaps using the information of my AdSense earnings to decide whether to target me with higher end ads for certain products or lower end ones.

Of course, this kind of targeting would open up a whole new can of worms. If I happened to be logged into my Google account (whether because I had just logged into AdSense, I had just checked my Gmail, etc) and then saw ads with my Google name in it, I would wonder what else they were tracking about me and who would be getting access to it, especially for those who may not be aware of all the programs Google offers as well as Google’s privacy policy and stance on privacy issues. And would this be restricted to Google search only, or would it also show up on sites running Google AdSense – sites where visitors would get even more confused about why the ads on Kate’s Cooking Site have their Google name or first name in the ads they see.  What if a husband is logged in but his wife is the one searching, and sees “George2K5, find hot singles in Seattle”… you know that will raise eyebrows from the wife searching, even though it is simply a username targeted ad and she might not have noticed the ad otherwise, except for the fact it is using her husband’s Google account name.

Would advertisers have access to all the usernames who viewed their ad but not neccessarily visited? What about if I had clicked an ad? Would that Lot DVD advertiser know that it was Jenstar who visited, since it would likely be a dynamically targeted keyword insert used in those ads.

Then there is the possible missuse of it from a click fraud level, if an advertiser did have access to usernames. What if I visited the site six times over a week and a half via an AdWords ad because I was working my way from the browsing cycle to the buying cycle, would an advertiser see the username Jenstar clicked the same ad three times and file a click fraud report, even though the clicks were not made fraudulently? Would I get a nastygram from said advertiser sent to my jenstar gmail account because they saw I clicked an ad six times… even though I might have converted into a sale using a completely seperate email address?

Then there is the seedier side if advertisers are using this.. they could learn things about very specific people visiting their sites, whether competitors, friends or family members, and use if for their own gain.  What if they advertised on their own names – ie Jennifer Slegg – and then tracked all the Google usernames who searched for their name?

This isn’t just from a Google perspective. Microsoft also collects data and I could be greeted with “Jennifer” or my hotmail username in their own ad targeting.

Microsoft stands alone on the name-ad question. The technology company has gone beyond policy making and created a technological barrier to using people’s personal information in advertising. The company uses an algorithm to pull demographic information from user’s registration (gender, age, ZIP code) and then places that with their behavioral data about what sites they visit. Once the algorithm has been applied, Microsoft says it has no ability to trace the data back to an individual consumer. :truncated: But there is a catch. Microsoft does not consider first names or nicknames to be personal information. So, they could run name-ads with only people’s first names.

And Yahoo? Similar story.

Yahoo is open to the idea of name-ads. A spokeswoman said that Yahoo can customize ads with people’s registration information, if they are logged in. This is similar to what Yahoo already does on its site for some of its own products, like e-mail. If I had an e-mail account with Yahoo, I’d be greeted by “Hi Louise” when logged in. But, the spokeswoman noted, Yahoo does not pass information like names to advertisers. The registration information is simply used by Yahoo for ads. Yahoo has a new product called Smart Ads that moves very close to this sort of micro-targeting by using data about its users to give them very specific offers for stores near them.

More – albiet very little more – information on Yahoo Smart Ads can be found here, although this seems to do more targeting based on search behavior and Yahoo properties visited by each surfer.

Doing ad targeting – especially targeting where an advertiser is able to put a first name or user name right into the ad copy – could be the wave of the future… however I am not quite certain that future is here yet and people are willing to accept the big brother factor of seeing ads with their usernames or first names right in the ad.  I would bet that it is something all three – Google, Yahoo & Microsoft – are considering, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of those 1% beta tests start rolling out… or even a .01% and see what the reaction is.

What do you think about seeing ads targeted so specifically to you that they have your first name or your username right in the ad copy?

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7 comments to Could you see Google AdWords and other PPC ads with your name in the title?

  • That’s it. I’m getting a new gmail account that’s 26 characters long and trademarked 😉

  • I doubt the advertisers are actually getting our information. It would be code passed. When the advertisers create their add they may type in…

    *username* Come Visit Our Store

    By typing user name. Google’s codes will ask if the current IP is logged onto a user account then it would show the users name. The information would never be presented to the advertisers, and your name should only appear if you are logged in.

    But I kindof doubt many advertisers will use it. Because….. It’s freaky.

    Most internet users will never know what is really going on. My parents didn’t understand how ads knew where they lived, and they wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t pointed it out.

    Targeted ads are great. For the advertisers, the publishers, and the consumers.

  • this reminds me of the first time i saw an amazon honour system button with my full name on it. i have to admit it was a little unnerving at first.

  • Once the name information goes back to the advertisers along with email address then spammers will all start signing up for PPC accounts and capturing varibles for spamming lists… EEK!

  • Shelley Ellis

    Hate the idea. Not only because I hate the idea personally but I also cringe at the idea of seeing all the junk that is going to show up instead of names.

  • It reminds me of the early personalized direct-mail letters that would start off:

    Dear BOB, We’d like to tell you about our new widget for people like you, BOB, who need yadda yadda yadda…

    I can see it being an attention-getting gimmick (and a way to overcome ad blindness), but with so many people being paranoid about privacy these days, it’s a gimmick that could backfire for the advertiser–and maybe for the AdSense publisher who’s got a “Great deal for Bob!” ad on his or her page.

  • That’s it. I’m getting a new gmail account that’s 26 characters long and trademarked

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