Targeted online ads are creeping out consumers

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 16 April 2015

A study from Ithaca College in the US has found that digital natives, or millennials, who are supposedly competent in the online space and used to its associated advertising are wary of online ads.

The research was undertaken by Lisa Barnard, Ithaca's assistant professor of integrated marketing communications. She said there is a positive affect on a consumer’s intent to purchase a product after viewing an ad tailored to them, but there is also an indirect and negative effect based on the “creepiness factor” that comes from being targeted individually.

That “indirect effect” apparently accounts for a 5% reduction in intent to purchase an advertised product.

"Even these digital natives, these millennials, were bothered by this. They know they're being marketed to. And they don't like that," Barnard said.

Ben Sharp managing director for AdRoll Australia and New Zealand told AdNews that one reason people may find targeted ads creepy is because there is a lack of information about what they actually are.

“When people describe relevant or targeted ads as creepy, there are usually two reasons,” he said. “The first is a lack of education.

“As an industry, we haven’t been very active in educating people outside the digital world on what exactly targeted ads are. Consumers worry about targeted ads because they don’t understand why they’re seeing them, what other data is available to brands and how to opt out of targeted ads,” Sharp added.

“Once it’s explained that it’s less 'Joe Bloggs from North Sydney has been looking at flights to Bali' and more 'computer 123 has cookie ABC, therefore serve ad X' people tend to be OK with targeted ads.”

Sharp also explained that poor targeted ads can also be the cause of the “creepiness factor”.

“There are vendors who don’t offer frequency capping or brands who work with multiple vendors and therefore, consumers can be bombarded with the same ad. There is a fine balance between using data effectively and over kill.”

“Ad creative is also incredibly important. Targeting can find the right person, on the right device and in the right place, but if the creative still isn’t relevant or isn’t engaging then, of course, the ad won’t perform.”

As part of her findings Barnard encouraged online marketers to recognise consumers’ sense of violation when ads are too specifically tailored.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword. Marketers have been making blanket assumptions that the more data we have the more we should use. But my argument is that just because we have all of that data, doesn't mean you should just go ahead and use it all the time in all cases,” she said.

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