Multinational Monitor

MAR/APR 2009
VOL 30 No. 2


A New Life for the IMF: Capitalizing on Crisis
by Robert Weissman


Burden of Proof: The Precautionary Principle
an interview with Peter Montague

A Carbon-Free Future
an interview with Arjun Makhijani

Green Stimulus
an interview with Robert Pollin

The Green Chemistry Revolution
an interview with Paul Anastas

A Bias to the Local: The Subsidiarity Principle
an interview with Jerry Mander


Behind the Lines

Big Ideas to Save the Planet

The Front
Global Job Meltdown - Prosecution Prognosis

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Greed At a Glance

Commercial Alert

Names In the News


Commercial Alert

Surveillance Society

Your TV may be watching you.

Cable companies Comcast and Verizon are now working with media firms that can cull data from cable boxes to track what viewers are watching and how long they watch it.

This new technology aims to enable marketers to target their advertising like never before. For example, a family with young children may see a Best Buy advertisement for video games, while a middle-aged man may see a Best Buy ad for high-end speakers.

Using a slightly different approach, Cablevision Systems, which serves New York markets, is partnering with data-collection company Experian to get demographic information about its users in order to better target ads based on income, ethnicity, gender, and whether the homeowner has children or pets.

Cablevision has been testing its new system in about 100,000 Brooklyn households, but plans to have it in 500,000 households by Summer 2009. If all goes smoothly, it will extend the program to all 3.1 million of its cable subscribers. The company is not notifying customers about the new targeted advertising.

This type of targeted advertising is only likely to increase. In 2008, the six largest cable companies came together to create an entity called Canoe Ventures to enable national distribution for targeting technologies.

Privacy advocates have expressed concern over this new targeting, but the cable companies insist that advertisers are just provided with the demographics - not specific names and addresses. There is also worry that customers should be notified that information about them is being collected.

When Comcast began a trial run of its targeted advertisements in 2008 with 70,000 Baltimore households, it sent letters alerting these households of the trial and giving them the ability to opt out.

Hard Liquor Hits Prime Time

Breaking the voluntary ban on liquor advertising on broadcast television, vodka maker Absolut aired a 30-second spot during the Grammy Awards in February. The ad was the first time a commercial for a distilled-spirits product appeared on any CBS-owned station.

Advocacy groups denounced the move, arguing that children and teens under 21 already see too much alcohol-related advertising on television. Absolut's ad was estimated to reach 31 percent of all U.S. TV households.

"I hope this alarming lack of restraint demonstrated by [Absolut] - and also by CBS - invites new scrutiny of hard liquor advertising on the part of the Federal Trade Commission and Congress," says George Hacker, Alcohol Policies project director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Considering the magnitude of alcohol problems among young people, we need less advertising of all alcoholic beverages, not more."

Local CBS affiliates were told to run the Absolut ad at their own discretion, according to representatives from CBS. "Each of our local station general managers is responsible for evaluating the suitability of ads," a spokesperson told Mediaweek. "In this case, they determined that the creative for this particular spot is tasteful and appropriate for the stations' late-evening audiences."

The spot continued on Absolut's recent advertising theme of "In an Absolut World," and showed an idealistic society where items can be bought merely by showing affection.

NBC experimented with running liquor ads in 2001, when it aired a Smirnoff vodka spot during Saturday Night Live. The station had planned to follow the advertisement with months of public service announcements about responsible alcohol consumption, but the uproar from Congress and advocacy groups made it impossible for NBC to continue its arrangement with Smirnoff.

Too Smart for Your Good

As you use your iPhone to search for local restaurants, advertisers are using your iPhone to search for you.

Smartphones, like the iPhone and BlackBerry Curve, are quickly becoming a marketer's dream come true, allowing them to cull personal information - demographics, interests, habits, sometimes even exact location - to send targeted advertisements. Several advertising firms are even experimenting with a new program called AisleCaster, which can offer specials based on a smartphone user's exact location in a supermarket aisle or shopping mall.

But while advertisers are growing giddy over new targeting opportunities, privacy advocates are alarmed.

"It's potentially a portable, personal spy," Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the New York Times. "Users are going to be inclined to say, sure, what's harmful about a click, not realizing that they've consented to give up their information."

Currently, there still aren't enough smartphone users to make it cost effective for advertisers to always use this highly specific search criteria. But as more and more people start using smartphones, advertisers will increase their targeting. In 2008 alone, the number of smartphone users in North America increased by 69 percent, according to the research firm Gartner. And currently there are no laws or regulations governing how advertisers and data companies track smartphone users - as long as they don't attach personally identifiable information, like names and addresses, to the information.

- Jennifer Wedekind


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