Fortune and Men's Eyeballs

# Fortune and Men's Eyeballs

The conventional wisdom debunked.
April 17 1999 3:30 AM

# Fortune and Men's Eyeballs

## Applying a bit of math to the great Internet giveaway.

Bill Gross, a Pasadena, Calif., businessman, has a great moneymaking idea. His firm, Free-PC.com, will ship you a free 333-megahertz Compaq computer. He'll also give you free Internet access and a free maintenance contract. In return, all he wants is two little things. Your soul and a pound of flesh? No, just your eyeballs and a bit of demographic information. "Eyeballs" is Webspeak for the number of people who see a Web page--and, presumably, any ad that is on it. If a Web page is served to 100,000 computers, that counts as 100,000 eyeballs, although literally it's more like 200,000, assuming two eyeballs per person.

eFax.com will give you a free fax number and allow you to receive faxes by e-mail--free. Everyone wants to give you free e-mail. Free personal address books and calendars, free mapping services, free personalized news and weather--all are available in exchange for your eyeballs and a bit of information about yourself, either asked for explicitly or gleaned from what you reveal in using the free service.

Which raises the question: How much can your eyeballs possibly be worth? Suppose I could insidiously find out enough about you to influence every purchasing decision you make. Suppose I could promise that every ad I sold you would go straight to your spending reflex. What could I sell that power for?

Now consider that advertisers spend an estimated \$100 billion plugging goods and services to America's 100 million households. In other words, advertisers, as a group, think that affecting the purchasing decisions of an entire household of average eyeballs is worth \$1,000 per year. That's for all the ads you see in every medium, from television to billboards, in the course of a year. Bill Gross is betting that his ads alone, aimed at just one person, will be worth almost half that amount. Maybe he will manage to find bigger spenders. Or maybe he'll be wildly more successful in affecting their decisions. Or maybe he's nuts.

His task will be easier if his \$400 doesn't have to come out of what advertisers are already spending but by convincing them that it's worth spending more. That's where the demographic information comes in. This is not a new concept, of course. John Wanamaker, who built a department store empire in 19th-century Philadelphia, once said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted ... I only wish I knew which half."