Privacy comes to the internet.

Targeting will never be the same.

Google Chrome's incognito mode, Microsoft Internet Explorer's InPrivate Browsing and Firefox's privacy settings can block cookies, delete private data after each online session and be set up not to store internet history.

Great for privacy. Not so great for targeting. Because these stealth searching/surfing tools can make it impossible to track internet activity.

That means ad networks will not be able to serve up banners, videos, buttons or skyscrapers to audiences targeted on the basis of the sites surfers have visited or the key words they've searched in the past.

When these technologies are adopted widely (the folks at BrainPosse are already using Chrome) all demographic targeting will be dead. That's because the algorithms which generate probable demographic profiles are based on tracking web activity.

A whole lot of contextual targeting will be dead, too. 'Cause the ad networks won't be able to determine what websites a surfer visited recently.

Is this a problem?

We don't think so. We're convinced that network-served web ads don't reach or persuade the target audience.

But what about the data that show that online video ads are twice as effective at television commercials? It pays to read the fine print in those studies.

Online ads get recall when they capture attention. And they usually don't. An online ad is on screen simultaneously with the content for which the user has come to the website in the first place. Guess which gets that user's attention?

According to the Yankelovich study, "When Advertising Works," traditional media are more effective than digital media at generating sales." The study pinpoints the reason for this disparity: "The biggest differences between media platforms are the situational contexts within which people are exposed to ads." In other words, a commercial is the only thing on a TV screen. It's peripheral on a computer.

So online marketing communications messages are not as effective as those in traditional media. But that's not all. The effectiveness credited to network-served online ads is almost always measured in clicks, not sales. If all you want is clicks, get a pair of castaƱets.

Does this mean internet advertising was a flash in the pan and we can all go back to :30 TVs, skywriting and sandwich boards?

Not hardly.

Although TV is still the 500-pound marketing communications, gorilla, online is gaining weight fast. A lot of pundits believe that the scales will tip to online somewhere around 2012.
So what will work?

SEO: Ten years ago we were telling clients that they needed good websites just to be in the game. Today it's search engine optimization. An effectively optimized website is no longer an advantage, it's a basic necessity. Because all of the effective competitors in any given field have SEO. Search engine optimization is also one of the most cost-effective weapons in the marketing communications arsenal. The cost of optimizing a site (and keeping it optimized) is a small fraction of the outlay involved in buying clicks through sponsored search.

Sponsored search: Search engine optimization is the most powerful online marketing communications tool, but it isn't applicable in all situations. For example our healthcare sibling agency recently worked on a search program for a regional cancer care organization. People searching cancer seldom include a geographic term in their search terms. So all the major search engine algorithms bring up national websites like the National Cancer Institute or the American Cancer Association on the first page. Geotargeted sponsored search brings this client's site up first on all searches of "cancer" originating within the organization's service area.