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Targeted ads going into online bank statements

It’s a tried and true direct-marketing technique: Insert a brochure or “buck slip” into a widely distributed mail piece – utility or bank statements, for example – and piggyback on the postage and reach of the business-oriented communication.

When direct-marketing exploded onto the internet a decade or so, advertisers started piggybacking on email, then onto Facebook and soon … well, soon they started appearing everywhere – and now you may even find such promos in your online checking account statement.
In a Washington Post article last week, reporter Ylan Q. Mui pointed to the potential sophistication of such tactics: The charge for your breakfast at McDonald’s, for example, might be followed with an offer for 10 percent cash back on your next meal there – and you don’t even have to print a coupon – Mickey D’s will recognize your debit card the next time it is swiped.

Major retailers are checking out the software – the creation of Cardlytics in Atlanta, Cartera in Boston, and others – finding that more than half of users follow through on an offer in the first month.

“This is a trusted channel where people are paying attention,” says Cardlytics CEO Scott Grimes. “It’s the power of the targeting.” Consumers can opt out of the program, he said, but only about 2 percent of the 10 million households using Cardlytics’ program do so.

Such creative programs are not without risk: The Federal Trade Commission is crafting guidelines that address use of personal information. And, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has said he plans to introduce an online privacy bill.

Political considerations aside, keep in mind that some potential customers still find such online techniques, not so much objectionable as downright “creepy.”

University of Toronto researcher Avi Goldfarb told AdAge recently that “privacy matters in something of a subtle way in online advertising. Sometimes privacy violations are fine, sometimes they’re not.”

Adds Econsultancy’s U.S. Editor Meghan Keane: “If people are going to get turned off by more relevant ads, perhaps we’ve finally found an online marketing privacy breach that customers won’t ignore.”