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Marketers get personal with ads addressed to [your name here]

Stella Artois Canada

This beer brewer knows where you live.

But Stella Artois is betting consumers won't mind the intrusion, once they get a visit from a pretty woman and her merry band of jazz musicians. When Facebook users type their friend's address (or their own) into the company's new app, "Carole" visits the location to sing a carol. Or so it appears.

The application uses Google Inc.'s street view technology to create personalized online videos of Carole riding through the streets around the recipient's address, and sings before a backdrop of the recipient's house. She then presents a glass of beer engraved with their name, and a card with the sender's message. More than 46,000 cards have been created globally so far.

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It's the first time that the Stella Artois brand, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, has used a personalized ad for the holidays – and the global campaign by ad agency Mother London has a touch of Canadian inspiration. In 2010, the Montreal band Arcade Fire made news with the online video for its song "We Used to Wait," which used Google street view to locate the film in the neighbourhood where the viewer grew up. The interactive film, "The Wilderness Downtown," was created by New York-based production and design house Radical Media and the Google Creative Lab, and promoted both the song and the Google Chrome browser. It won a Grand Prix in the Cyber category at the Cannes advertising festival last year.

It's also indicative of a larger trend of personalized advertising: As technology improves, more marketers are looking to break through the clutter with ads addressed directly to [your name here].

In fact, Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd., the Canadian division of InBev, is launching another personalized campaign this week. The "Remember When?" Facebook app allows people to create personalized videos of the year that was, sharing it with their friends on Facebook leading up to New Year's Eve. The app gives the tools needed to create a slide show from personal Facebook and Instagram photos from the past year, set to music by Canadian artists, with personalized messages – capped off with Alexander Keith's logo and its slogan, "Made to Share."

"To connect with consumers at an emotional level, in a very real way, is something we're trying to do. We can do that in a mass way through TV, but digital allows us to do something much more personal, and that's what excites me as a marketer," said Arielle Loeb, marketing director for high-end premium brands at Labatt.

This month, Wrigley Canada launched the latest in its surreal Skittles campaigns; called "Create the Rainbow," it allows visitors to build their own Skittles commercial and ends with the tagline: "[Your name] the rainbow. Taste the rainbow." Five days into the campaign, more than 800 videos had been created on the site.

"It's giving them the opportunity to create their own funny … and they have the opportunity to share it [online]. I think they feel more ownership of it. So they're more likely to increase that engagement," said Carlos Moreno, co-executive creative director at BBDO Toronto.

This type of campaign is particularly tailored to the holiday season, with a digital take on the traditional Christmas card. But it is expanding at all seasons.

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In November, things got awkward in a ballroom at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto, with audible grumbles heard as agency Lowe Roche was called to the stage over and over to claim an armful of Canadian Marketing Association awards for its personalized campaign for O.B. tampons. In 2010, a distribution problem meant the tampons disappeared from stores. So the company sent an e-mail to its database, linking to a video with a man singing a personalized apology.

The video racked up more than 46 million views, and in the six months following the campaign O.B. saw a 2.6-per-cent increase in its share of sales in the segment.

When the brand decided to bring back its ultra absorbency tampons, which had been discontinued since 2010, it decided on another personal campaign. This month, the Endless Celebration website launched, with a series of bizarre short videos to celebrate the relaunch and offer coupons. A swordsman named Bolero makes a sculpture of himself with the viewer's name on the base; an elderly cheerleader spells out the name in a cheer; and it is shaved into a break dancer's hair, among 47 other videos.

"We wanted to build on the shoulders of the success that we had last year. … We knew that the personalization of it had a lot to do with that success," said Lowe Roche CEO Monica Ruffo.

Of course, personalization goes back to direct-mail marketing techniques, but as technology develops, it is now possible to personalize in more interesting, and far more cost-effective ways.

That opens the door to marketers' growing use of data to better target ads to exactly the consumers they want to reach. But it also increases consumers' demand to see advertising that is relevant to them. Not too far in the future, Ms. Ruffo expects to see more campaigns that would ask people to approve the use of Facebook data and then churn out an ad based on a person's likes.

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Mitch Joel, a digital marketing expert and president of Montreal-based agency Twist Image, predicts there will be more targeted pricing, where a price could change for a product based on the income and lifestyle of the person to whom it is advertised.

"We're hearing that the chief marketing officer will be spending more on technology than the IT department does very soon," Mr. Joel said. "… We're headed into a mass era of personalization."

The danger exists, however, that just like the your-name-here introductions on junk mail, consumers could soon be inundated with so much personalization in digital campaigns that it no longer stands out. The pressure, then, will be to make ever more targeted, relevant and useful ads.

"If we can speak to everyone in the most compelling unique way possible, we want to do that. … As technology evolves we'll do so much more of it," Ms. Ruffo said. "The more I know about you, the more I can speak to you about the things you want to hear, the way you want, the better."

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