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A Bit of Information
by Glen Emerson Morris
Copyright © 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris
All Rights Reserved
keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing.
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As the millennium approaches the industry is spending a growing amount of time
debating what kind of future we're going to have. This is valid issue, but it also
misses the main point of the technology revolution. The real question is what kind
of future do we want to have.
Given the amount of money wasted on mis-targeted advertising, a top priority should
be a future where all the information needed to efficiently target customers was
readily and affordably available. This really isn't asking that much. After all,
a single bit of information (1 or 0, yes or no) is enough to tell an advertiser whether a
target is male or female, or old enough to drive a car, or even able to afford one.
If you're selling cars or dresses, this bit of information is critical. In the future,
it could be common to know the things you needed to know the most.
Technological innovations are giving advertisers the opportunity to influence not only what kind of information they can acquire about consumers, but
how much it will cost, and where it will come from. Competition is heating up between
government, the private sector, and Internet technology to provide marketing information to advertisers. Decisions advertisers make in the next few years will affect the
information available to them over the next decade, perhaps longer.
The information market is ultimately ground zero in the Information Revolution.
New technologies have made many of the services provided by companies like Standard
& Poor DRI overpriced, even obsolete. At the same time, the Internet has given advertisers the ability to communicate directly with their customers, bypassing data marketers,
market research firms, even advertising agencies. In response to this, the Department
of Commerce (which supplies much of the data refined and re-marketed by companies
like Standard & Poor) has decided to become much more useful and user friendly to non-Fortune
The DOC has chosen to embrace the Information Revolution, rather than resist it.
Much to its credit, the DOC has aggressively pursued opportunities new technology presented to collect, analyze, and distribute data to
more businesses, for less money. The DOC's transformation over the last few years
from a stodgy, slow, and dated information service dedicated primarily to the needs
of the top corporations, to a thoughtful, innovative, and responsive information clearinghouse,
targeting the needs of average business, has been nothing short of miraculous. It's
one of those rare cases of a government agency doing the right thing for the right
Understandably, there's a lot of political pressure against the Department of Commerce
for their new "data for everybody" approach. Some interest groups in Washington are
arguing that the government should only collect economic and demographic information, and leave the distribution to the private sector, in effect freezing technology
at a point in the sixties and seventies, when only businesses with mainframes, or
a big budget, could afford the information they needed. For a number of reasons,
both economic and technological, this approach simply won't work.
By law the data the DOC publishes is public domain, so anyone is free to buy one
of their $50 to $150 CD-ROM's and sell copies of the data for a much more reasonable
price. Few people have done this yet, in part because about the time special interest
groups managed to pass legislation designed to keep the cost of CD-ROM's artificially
high, the Internet to made the issue a moot point. The DOC charges over $50 for the
new E-Commerce report in print, but the same report can be downloaded from the DOC
Website for free (though it may take a while on a 28K modem.) The same thing goes for
the DOC's yearly bestseller The Statistical Abstract of the United States, though
the download version lacks the Excel and Lotus spreadsheet files found on the CD-ROM.
The Internet has also allowed the DOC to bypass another major limitation placed
on it by special interests. The DOC is forbidden by law from advertising about it's
own products, except in its own publications. For decades this had much the effect
of giving the Department of Commerce an unlisted phone number. However, since the DOC Website
complex legally qualifies as its own publication, the DOC has been free to aggressively
promote a vast array of data products and services, largely unknown to the general business community, in a media able to get at least some attention. It's worked.
Recently PC Magazine listed the Department of Commerce as one of the top 100 sites
on the Internet. Not long after, hits on the main DOC Website zoomed to one million
Unfortunately, visibility alone may not be enough to keep DOC funded for its current
mission. If the Department of Commerce is to succeed long term, it's going to need
some help. The DOC should be supported, protected, and above all encouraged to continue to evolve, if for no other reason than that it's the most cost effective solution
to a common problem.
The Internet has made it possible to acquire large amounts of free information about their customers, and the general business environment, but there
will always be a need for information that can only come from somewhere else, and
at a price. The question is whether the average advertising agency or business will
be able to buy data inexpensively from the Department of Commerce, or from a much more expensive
source in the private sector.
In the Information Age, information is the ultimate commodity item. In an information
based economy, keeping the cost of information artificially high, rationed only to
the most affluent, makes about as much sense as driving a race car with the brakes
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