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Monday, April 12, 2004

Gator, I Mean Claria, To Go Public

There's a saying that Madison Avenue always gets its way. Actually, there's no such saying, but that's presumably the only explanation for the massive ongoing effort to shape your browsing experience to suit someone's "media buying" model. Big companies can't be bothered with asking your permission or waiting around for you to search for stuff. Apparently they can't even respect your decision to visit sites on which other legitimate advertisers have paid for banner space. So when Gator calls 'em up and says you can pop up all over the place -- even when your prospects are surfing your competitor's site!! -- they say "how much can we buy?"

Usually, big companies like to make a big fuss out of copyright, trademark, and other property-rights issues. Like the right of a publisher not to have its pages overwritten and popped-over by another publisher. So to pull off this hyper-aggressive media buy thing, they'll need someone to sanitize everything. A company with a nice, clean-sounding name. Not Clarica; that's the name of a large insurance and financial services company that used to be called Manulife. This one's Claria. It sounds nice and clean, but it isn't. It'll help to have some ad agencies involved, too. And Overture, who make up as much as 30% of Claria's revenues. Owned by good old Yahoo. Yahoo, profiting from pop-ups and scumware? You bet!

It seems that some of the deep-pocketed advertisers who had previously availed themselves of Gator's services have decided they don't like it when they get "Gatored" on their own websites. I'm not exactly sure how this one played out, but it was probably something like this:

Hertz Germany boss: "What the @@#$^%!? I went to our website like I do every day to think of something to bother our IT dept. with, and this big ad for Avis popped up on my screen! Let's sue their asses!"

Helpful Assistant: "But sir, that ad is served by scumware named Gator, and we just invested $86 billion in those same ads so we could show up on our competitors' sites!"

HGB: "I thought the company we dealt with was called Clarina, or Caribou, or something. Used to make apple pies and air fresheners before going into the advertising business? They called it 'behavioral marketing.' Surely there can't be anything wrong with that?"

HA: "If we sue them, we'll look like idiots."

HGB: "OK, then, let's pretend to be idiots. That way we can sue them."

HA: "Good timing, sir. They're going public shortly. Lots of investor cash in the bank. Plus, your cousin Helmut can always use the billings."

HGB: "You read my mind."

So, to capitalize on hot markets and the prospect of being made even hotter in investors' minds by all this negative PR, Claria's preparing for a whopper of an IPO. But it will always be Gator to us.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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