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BizReport : Advertising archives : April 20, 2015

Targeted ads give Internet users the creeps

Consumers feel that targeted ads that follow them around the Internet are too personal and worry how the data for such targeting was collated, according to research conducted at Ithaca College.

by Helen Leggatt

When assistant professor of integrated marketing communications, Lisa Barnard, studied Internet users' reactions to targeted ads, she found a somewhat negative picture.

"They found it to be really creepy," she said. Consumers felt such ads were too personal because it uses data they did not agree to provide, such as searches and browsing, and because they were "unclear how and where that information will be used".

Furthermore, some of the study participants were cagey about logging on to Facebook in the company of others for fear that targeted ads on the social network might be embarrassing.

"You think you're discreetly buying condoms online," said one participant, "then you're on Facebook and there's an ad for condoms and people are like 'Hey dude, what have you been looking for online?'"

Barnard did concede that targeted ads have a "direct, positive effect" on intent to purchase after being presented with such an ad. However, she also found that the "creepiness factor" had a negative effect - a 5% reduction in intent to purchase the advertised product.

One of the reasons today's targeted ads are creeping out consumers is that they are far more personalized using online behavior than ever before. Previously, ads had been targeted on much broader data such as age or hobbies, but now ads are being targeted with far more personal information.

The dilemma for marketers is whether or not such detailed personal information should be used to target Internet users.

"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," says Barnard. "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."

However, even 7 years ago consumers were being creeped out by targeted ads. Research conducted by Info-Tech Research Group in 2008 came to similar conclusions to Barnard, even using the same 'creepy' description. They found that 59% of U.S. adults they were uncomfortable with websites using information about their browsing habits to determine which ads and content they are served up.

"What happens is people suddenly realize they've put out enough personal information to get served with a targeted advertisement, and the Web makes the transition from convenience to creepiness," said Colin McKay, of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in Ottawa.

Image via Shutterstock

Tags: advertising, personal data, research, targeting ads

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