WASHINGTON - The topic generating the most buzz at INC3 last month was advertising - how to personalize it and how to monetize it.

Topics of discussion during the advertising panel and among attendees at large ran the gamut on everything from just how targeted advertising should be, to the best ways to personalize it, to the most successful methods for delivering advertising messages.

Time Inc. presented what is likely the most successful advertising model of an individuated product to date with its mine magazine. Mine is the brainchild of Time and major advertiser, Lexus. Upon launching mine, Time received triple the amount of opt-ins it expected for readers wanting to receive targeted Lexus ads, according to Wayne Powers, president of Time's Media Group.

"It doesn't get any better than this," said Peter Vandevanter, vice president of targeted products for MediaNews Group, after the presentation. "To be standing here a year after the last conference and realize that Time has done it."

Among the technologies in play for mine: the use of quick-response codes, or QR codes, which are based on product barcodes that can be quickly transformed into product information for consumers.

Many iPhone users already use a similar app that allows consumers to request product information by merely transmitting a photo of the product.

OutputLinks provided the QR coding for mine.

Getting to know you

The common theme among speakers on the advertising panel at INC3: Newspapers must meet the challenge of getting to know their readers if they hope to successfully target advertising.

The panel was comprised of execs from companies that offer products aimed at helping advertisers do just that, including Digital Technology International and MediaSpan. Also on the panel were execs from Centro, Precision Ads and PageTurnPro.

"Without data, without deep consumer information, you aren't going to have a product that is valuable," said Shawn Riegsecker, founder of online advertising engine Centro. But he warned that the onus is largely on the newspapers since readers aren't inclined to constantly update the demographic information that is helpful in targeting them.

"You have to come up with a learning engine for your product," he said. "As people change, your information has to change too."

Because of their respect in the local market, newspapers that are proactive are well positioned to do this successfully, he said.

"The newspaper has let every opportunity pass it by," Riegsecker said. "You could've done Craigslist and you didn't ... you bought your way into CareerBuilder. Don't let this thing pass you by."

Value of content

Ken Freedman, vice president of sales and marketing for MediaSpan, said newspapers need to remain focused on the real value of their products, and that is the content they produce.

"Newspapers have been zoning for years, but the real value is still the content we produce," he said. "It will make us more powerful than Google or any of those aggregators."

Freedman told attendees there is no magic bullet when it comes to successfully personalizing advertisements, but that a wide variety of tools are available.

"There is no one right answer to what we're trying to do, but we're working on it because we (Media-Span) have the tools to do it."

Precision Ads founder John Dowd told attendees that newspapers stand to benefit from any amount of targeting they do with advertising.

"Newspapers have gotten better at tracking and mechanics and using that information," Dowd said. "The bar right now for newspapers is so low that they are going to increase CPM [by implementing any] amount of targeting."

Caution

Advice from panelists was also tempered with warnings about things publishers may be better off avoiding in their quests to monetize personalized products.

"With technology you have opportunities, threats and noise," said Larry Kluger, president of Journal Publications Inc., developer of Web publishing software PageTurnPro. "The Kindle - that is noise right

now - someday, maybe, but we wouldn't focus on something like that. On the other end is digital [which is] also an opportunity to exploit."

The reason: Digital editions have immediate returns, according to Kluger.

"On the cost side there isn't much there," he said. "On the benefits side, you are reaching new subscribers (and) saving postage costs."

Attendees and panelists agreed that first and foremost, personalized ads must strike the right chord, in the right way, in order to be effective.

"Personalization has to be done right and resonate with more than one sliver of your personality," said Steve Nilan, vice president of marketing for DTI.