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What did Madison Avenue's admongers make of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's big pitch? Here's a hint: "They're going to give Google a run for their money," one attendee told me. And you thought the hype machine was already in full gear?

Facebook announced three ways for companies to target Facebook users. Least interesting? A way for advertisers to build their own user profiles, which most saw as an extension of the already-available Sponsored groups. Most of my sources were abuzz about the other two, Facebook Beacon and Facebook Insights.

Insights is Facebook's new behavioral-targeting system for advertisers. Of course advertisers love it - in theory. These people buy whole seasons worth of ads television based on a few demographics, on the premise that people in certain age groups and income brackets behave in certain ways. With Insights, they can trade that guesswork in to actually target specific, expressed interests.


With Beacon, Facebook will install cookies onto users' computers to track their activities when they visit partner websites such as eBay, Travelocity, and Fandango. When these users bid on an item, book a trip or buy a movie ticket, Facebook will let the user's friends know in their Facebook news feeds, the stream of friends' activities that greets users when they log in.

Great news, right? Who doesn't want to spam your friends, hassle-free?


Ad execs attending the presentation were almost unanimous in their enthusiasm for the new product. In fact, a surprising number told me Google should feel the heat.

"It's going to give Google a run for their money," two adverterising executives told me, word-for-word, on separate occasions. One claimed that — skipping over Google's keyword-targeted search ads, this might be the first meaningful way for local businesses to advertise online.

The other confessed he wouldn't begin redirecting any of his client's money away from Google and toward Facebook anytime soon. Still, he said, "this blows MySpace out of the water."

Another executive in attendance said that Facebook Beacon might capture what marketers have been after since the dancing baby: viral marketing. Watching a group supporting Stephen Colbert's fake presidential campaign reach 1 million members in just eight days, this exec imagined the same kind of explosion could happen when a user's news feed fills up with friends buying tickets to Superbad.

There were some skeptics in attendance at today's event, though they were difficult to find. A couple of sources, for example, told me that they were at least somewhat concerned about user privacy. This issue could quickly mushroom with the FTC pressuring online advertisers to allow users to opt out of behavioral targeting and with Facebook employees monkeying around with supposedly private information.

Another unbeliever told me he wasn't very impressed with the companies gathered to explain the future of advertising. "Blockbuster, Verizon and CBS? Why not just interview my dad?" he said. I'd identify him by name, except that I worry what Facebook employees might put on his profile.

(Photo by midweekpost)