Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Launching Numerati behavioral campaign: Will deliver 8 million targeted ads

September 5, 2008languages

Over the next six weeks, you may run across some of these ads on your net wanderings. If you do, it will be because the patterns of your browsing, the sites you visit and the articles you read, rank you as a promising would-be reader of The Numerati.

As I explained a couple of weeks ago, Houghton Mifflin is doing a behavioral advertising campaign for the book with Platform-A, a division of AOL. (AOL last year bought Tacoda, whose work I describe in the introduction to the book) So, the idea is that we're using the tools and methods of the Numerati to promote the book.

Now I have some details. The campaign, by industry standards, is pretty small. It will deliver some 8 million targeted ads. The first stage, which starts in the next couple of days, will scatter them to a general audience, people in every sort of behavioral tribe imaginable. Some might be romantic movie lovers, others John Deere aficionados. Some may dwell at length on obituary postings. Platform-A will see if any of these groups seem especially interested in the book. They will also note which ads they click on. Some are cheerfully promotional, others much more scary. (One flashing ad says: Meet The Numerati... They've Already Met You.)

On Sept. 15, they will have the data to launch the targeted campaign. They start out with the hypothesis that the two interested groups will be readers of book reviews (the so-called "arts and literature" crowd. I think of them as New Yorker readers) and those interested in "business strategy." Unless the preliminary tests show that another group merits their attention, they'll divide the ads between those two. The business readers will get about 20% more, since they're a larger group.


A Numerati reader, perhaps?

The person I spoke to at Platform-A told me that the campaign is a little more fractured than she'd choose. In other words, it's broken down into more categories than most campaigns of its size, with more ads and broader targeting. The reason: We're interested in generating lots of data. This is an experiment for us, a new form of advertising, and we want to learn from it.

I got more details in my phone call last night. But I think I'll horde a few of them and break them out as separate blog posts.

I should add here, especially since some of the publicity focuses on the creepy and invasive nature of the Numerati, that neither we nor Platform-A will know details about the Web surfers we track. No names, no addresses, no professions. They're anonymous surfers, each defined only by the pattern of the pages he or she visits.

As I mentioned yesterday, if you have time to take a look at the ads please leave your thoughts about them. Are some of them offensive? Exaggerated? Do any make you want to interrupt what you're doing and buy the book? Of course, if you supplement your views with information about yourself, that will give us even more data to work with... If the two things you're buying this week are a Lamborghini and The Numerati, you might lead us to a rich and hidden vein of potential readers. (I also posted a version of this on

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