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> Zedo and the Art of Customer Maintenance
Zedo and the Art
of Customer Maintenance
By Steven M. Zeitchik
July 11, 2001
The ad-technology startup polls Web surfers
about the types of ads they want to see online.
Is this a better approach to the banner?
It's easy to dismiss ad-technology startup Zedo
as quaint. For one thing, the company hopes to
build its business around the ad banner. For another,
it polls Web surfers about the types of ads they
want to see online, and it's raised only $2.5
million in funding.
But Zedo might be the first technology firm to
realize that your mother was right: If you want
something, even click-throughs for banner ads,
you should ask for it politely. "The fundamental
power of the Internet is that consumers are in
control," says Zedo President and CEO Roy de Souza.
"So rather than follow them around and find out
they read CNN or they look at this and that, which
is expensive and not terribly effective, we just
The 4-month-old service works like this: When
a Web surfer visits a site served by Zedo, which
has signed deals with Lycos and Excite, a menu
drops down from the banner ad offering a range
of product categories. After a user makes a selection,
the site serves ads only from that category. Users
can change channels any time, and if they don't,
the system will prompt them to do so after 30
The point of it all - apart from creating what
Zedo hopes will be a more reliable targeting device
- is to give Web users a sense of investment in
the ads they see. "Advertisers don't really care
whether a customer finds an ad hot," de Souza
says. "They just want customers to feel involved."
Zedo isn't the first ad company to try to shuffle
the deck; we've seen a number of variations on
the standard banner ad, starting with the simple
pop-up. Eventually, advertisers made the pop-up
more nimble, moving it around the screen, so after
closing the ad, users felt as if they'd just played
a game of digital Whack-A-Mole. Advertisers then
enlarged the ads and put them in the middle of
a Web page, instead of at the top. And lately,
companies like digital-camera outfit X10 have
experimented with the pop-under, a sneakier version
of the pop-up that opens another window below
the Web browser.
Much of the experimentation is the result of
the banner's failure to live up to what, in hindsight,
seems like unrealistic expectations. Advertising
has long relied on a kind of fuzzy logic. For
years, nobody knew exactly how, or if, ads reached
their targets. Then came the Web, and its attempt
to quantify exactly how much attention was being
paid to each ad. Needless to say, advertisers
quickly became disappointed, which is where Zedo
The notion of asking people what they want to
see doesn't abandon the Web's raison d'etre of
personalization and targeted tracking. But by
allowing a degree of murkiness, it's also a throwback
to an earlier time. It doesn't claim to track
with needlepoint accuracy, but rather just to
get a general impression of what users prefer.
It doesn't care much whether users like the ads;
it just wants to create a vague sensation of "involvement."
And, perhaps most importantly, it doesn't overtax
users - Web surfers aren't forced to show a high
degree of interest by clicking through to an ad;
they're just asked to name their interests.
In these somewhat frigid economic climes, it's
anyone's guess whether Zedo will survive. Its
model certainly makes a lot of assumptions, not
the least of which is that consumers care enough
about ads to make conscious choices about them.
But the company's attempt to customize without
overreaching may be met warmly. It certainly seems
wiser than popping windows under your Web browser.