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Online, We're the Sales Leads and the Cookies are the Closers

My son plays some pretty obscure online games. You have to leave the beaten track to find them. About six months ago he was playing one in my dungeon office at home, where I was using hypnosis to coax ideas out of a blank piece of paper. We had this conversation.

faced-manHIM: Did you do this ad for (Respectable Upscale Client)? With the blind chameleon?

ME: Yup. We did that.

HIM: Oh.

(Twenty minute pause.)

ME: Why do you ask?

HIM: It's boring. Oh snap—gotcha! High five!

ME: What site are you on?

HIM: Pimped-Out Mutants Slaughterpit 6.

To my son, fourteen with a gentle soul, all games are a version of the same game. Chess, NBA, Slaughterpit. He's interested in the pattern more than the scenario, a valuable life skill. One thing he's not interested in is anything I'm interested in. So what was the Respectable Upscale Client doing in a neighborhood like Slaughterpit?

Answer: looking for me. Those were my cookies at work, moving in the shadows. My son wasn't using his computer, he was using mine. That's the ghost in the machine, the invisible hand at work. Sit laptop-to-laptop with someone you know, and you each get different advertising on the same Web site. And increasingly, you get the same site with different content.

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That's because the cookies and pixels that companies drop on your hard drive have recently taken a quantum leap. Data company Acxiom estimates there are 1,500 pieces of data on every American, from income to memberships to subscriptions. A pretty extensive profile. Recently all that offline information has been introduced online. Now behavioral targeting—and next social targeting—use super-informed cookies to reach not just you but the friends and contacts in your social networks too.

For a marketer it means less wastage, a better ROI, and a much more intelligent use of everyone's time. In David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, Blake says to Shelley Levene: "These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they're gold, and you don't get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They're for closers."

twoheadedI recently watched a 1968 documentary by the Maysles Brothers called Salesman. You feel David Mamet must have seen the film too. The salesmen sell bibles, or try to. There are scenes of squirming discomfort that put Borat in context. The point is, in the Internet age, we're the leads and the cookies are the closers.

It's good to be alive now. To personalize your world, escape into your avatar self. Trouble is, the more designed the online experience becomes, the more we edit out the inconvenient truth. And the more we're all in this alone. Customize the facts, and you customize reality. Look at the health-care debate.

Some people believe that the whole thing is a designed experience—life, the universe, and all that. Many of us subscribe to a less religious belief system. Personally, I think design is the product of evolved thinking.

Anyway, if you ever see that video banner we did with the blind chameleon, we won't tell anyone where we found you. Or will we?

Read more of Graham Button's Like It or Not blog
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Graham Button is a writer from London who worked in advertising for more than twenty years. He took the scenic route to Genesis, passing through agencies in Hong Kong, Toronto and finally New York, where he was a creative director and executive vice president at Grey Worldwide. He has created advertising in most media for every kind of brand and all sorts of companies, including Diageo, Kaiser Permanente, Molson Breweries, GM, and South China Morning Post Newspapers. Beaver Creek, one of the Vail Resorts brands, chose to follow him to Genesis from Grey. Work he originated as a copywriter or championed as a creative director has been recognized in awards shows in Los Angeles, Toronto, New York, London, Cannes, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sydney and has been featured on America's Funniest Videos and Larry King Live.