MyPoints Goes Live in UK in First Foreign Launch

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SAN FRANSCISCO -- My Points Europe launched its first program Sept. 25 when it went live in the UK. The company is a joint venture between MyPoints.com and Experian, a subsidiary of Great Universal Stores.


MyPoints.com is a database-driven direct marketing service that helps businesses identify, acquire and retain customers through targeted opt-in e-mail and personalized offers with incentive points.


The US firm has a 19 percent stake in the joint venture with GUS holding the remaining 81 percent, but MyPoints.com has an option to increase its stake to 50 percent and hopes to take the venture public at an unspecified future date.


The British version, known as MyPoints.co.uk, runs on the US company's technology and uses its consumer program.


"In effect," said spokesman Geoff Ossias, "we're licensing our software and brand to them so they can create a version of MyPoints.com for the UK.


"We expect to grow audience share rapidly in the UK because this is a much less competitive environment and because GUS has vast experience in data services and marketing that are less well-known than its retail business," Ossias said. GUS is a leading UK cataloger.


He said the venture should have no trouble reaching British advertisers and getting them as enthused about the program as American advertisers are, given the 15 million members the company has in the US and the 10,000 who sign up daily.


One attraction, he noted, is that members don't have to do or pay anything beyond agreeing to read e-mails and fill out a detailed personal profile listing their interests and demographics.


It helps, he said, that MyPoints has stringent privacy policies in the US, because that makes it easier to shift the program to Europe, where privacy rules are stricter than in the US.


"We don't sell personal information. We deliver ads on our advertisers' behalf," Ossias said. "The only time an advertiser gets personal information is if a member takes up an offer to buy a product or register for a service. Members give permission. We merely deliver the advertising."


Potential advertisers come to MyPoints and ask to reach a specific demographic target. "We then look in our database and come up with, say, 4 million names that fit their profile," Ossias said.


"We then send our members in that profile the advertising that, say, Sprint wants to send them. But Sprint doesn't get the demographic information we have and can't reach our members directly."


Advertisers prepare the creative, although MyPoints has a creative department that helps fit the message into its format, which is then sent to members.


The UK program uses traditional online advertising methods to reach potential members, mostly through banners, which remain the primary method of Internet advertising even though response rates have been declining sharply.


"We don't use offline marketing much because it just isn't effective," he said. "There are exceptions, for example when campus groups or other specific demographic groups are targeted, that have been marketed to in an offline environment."


Ossias said the joint venture had not targeted specific membership numbers it hoped to achieve in the UK, but he conceded that a straight extrapolation from US figures to Great Britain might come up with 4 million.


Some of what Ossias called "anchor tenants" in the UK include Virgin and all its subbrands from music to airlines, and well-known British brands such as Dixons, Boots, Marks & Spencer, Woolworth and Beefeater gin.


Some US brands also are big in Great Britain, and MyPoints.co.uk will use them as part of the promotion and reward it offers members.


MyPoints Europe plans to roll out other markets across the continent over the next 18 months or so and launch the Japanese program late this year or early next. The company entered into a joint venture with a major Japanese printer last June.
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