NEW YORK - The popular online hangout MySpace is expanding its program for letting advertisers target their pitches using personal details on users' profile pages.
Since July, MySpace has allowed more than 50 advertisers, including Procter & Gamble Co., Ford Motor Co., and Yum Brands Inc.'s Taco Bell chain, to target any of 10 interest groups, such as movies, travel, and auto.
In the program's second phase, launching today, MySpace is adding an 11th category, television, along with hundreds of subcategories, such as horror movies. Even that is subdivided into "teen screams," "satanic stories," "vampires," and others.
Like other social-networking sites, MySpace offers a mix of messaging tools to encourage its visitors to expand their circles of friends. Central to it are personal profile pages where users can post photos and video clips, blast messages to friends, and have visitors leave comments.
Targeting ads well can be lucrative.
MySpace, a unit of News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media, said many advertisers improve response rates fourfold through its targeting program, which also includes segmentation by location and age groups. The company says it charges advertisers more, though it would not say how much.
But targeting can also backfire if users believe their personal expressions are being misused.
When MySpace's chief rival, Facebook, introduced a feature last year that allows users to more easily track changes their friends make to profiles, many users denounced it as stalking and threatened protests and boycotts. Facebook had to quickly apologize and agree to let users turn off the feature so that others can't easily see what they do.
Facebook was scheduled to unveil its own ad program tomorrow, though officials refused to discuss its nature.
Adam Bain, executive vice president for products and technology at Fox Interactive, said the company spent a year developing its program and created user panels to study privacy and other issues.
"The thing we heard from them is they wanted advertisements to be more contextually relevant to them," Bain said. "If they have to live with ads, they want an ad to be engaging."
Bain said MySpace only examines information users already make public in their profiles.
For example, if a user indicates support for the Boston Red Sox, lists "Hoosiers" and other sports movies as favorites, and posts a background image of surfing, that user would be a candidate for sports-related ads. That person may also write about guitars, so music-related ads might appear, too.
Bain said the company doesn't use any personally identifiable information from user accounts, nor does it analyze what profiles users view. (A user's friends list, though, would be factored in because it is public.) By year's end, he said, users also would have a chance to decline targeting.
MySpace also is opening up the program to smaller advertisers through self-service tools.
A jazz band, for example, would be able to create a banner ad leading jazz lovers to the band's MySpace profile page. (Links to external sites are not yet permitted using self-service.)
Internet search leader Google Inc. has generated much of its revenues through self-service tools that even small merchants can use to target text ads to search terms.
Google, which already has a deal to place those text-based ad links on MySpace, is now trying to bring that success to display ads, an area MySpace could try to challenge with the launch of its self-service targeting tools.