Abacus used information from direct marketers and catalog companies to create a centralized database; ostensibly, this allowed it member companies to target marketing materials more accurately to consumers. When that capability was combined with DirectClick's capabilities, however, it became possible for the company to merge purchase history with online surfing history. Again, the stated goal was the more effective targeting of marketing material, but privacy advocates were concerned that having a single database containing such information could easily lead to abuse through distribution to third parties. More recently, Abacus has focused on co-operative mailing lists, which are less intrusive but which still trade in individuals' personal data (Krol, 2003).
Ethical problems can also arise with regard to how companies target consumers, particularly when those consumers are children. Children are considered particularly vulnerable to advertising because they lack the sophistication that makes adults theoretically more consumer-savvy. High production values, misleading if not untrue statements, highly emotional appeals are all considered to carry undue weight with the decision making process of children. Television is considered particularly effective as it is with adults because of the intense images that it conveys and the level of reality that many associate with the medium. Increasingly, the same problems are arising with the Internet where Web sites offer games and even educational information to children while advertising is subtly placed on the site, as well. This, according to critics, leads to significant influence by advertisers over children who may not differentiate between messages that are bought and paid for, and messages that are more objective in their content ("Targeting," 2004).
Webvan combined high-technology with an innovative approach to a basic need: how to get food to consumers. Despite the many adv...
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