co Research Shows That Targeted Ads Can Be Creepy |

ScienceDaily has an interesting report on a recent study from Ithaca College.  In this research, assistant professor of integrated marketing communications Lisa Barnard looks at how consumers felt about being tracked. Her experience in New York City’s advertising industry raised questions about the conventional wisdom of targeted ads.

“My experience was that consumer’s reactions to it were not good. They found it to be really creepy. We would get hate mail back when they realized what was happening,” Barnard said.

What Has Changed In Targeted Marketing?

It used to be that ads were tailored to target a demographic. The change has come with technology that allows marketers to target an individual based on online searches or browsing. That feels “creepy” because the consumer did not specifically give permission for such data to be used.

The participants in the study were 280 college students ranging from age 18-38, so you’d expect this age group to be accustomed to digital tracking. But the results show they don’t necessarily like it:

  • there is a direct, positive affect on a consumer’s intent to purchase a product after viewing a tailored ad
  • there is an indirect, negative effect based on the “creepiness factor” of being targeted individually
  • the indirect effect accounts for a 5% reduction in intent to purchase the advertised product

What’s The Takeaway?

If the digital natives are bothered by ads showing up on Facebook for stuff they were looking at online, you know that everyone else is uncomfortable, too. That fine line between being shown an opportunity you might like and being stalked is drawn with the customer’s hand, not the marketer’s.

Be polite and ask for permission before you get in someone’s personal space.

Inadequate permissions is top on the list of things that turn email into spam. We have to remember that marketing is only effective when the audience wants what we offer. If they feel like we are stalking them, there’s a negative reaction. We can change this in a very simple way:

  • Make it easy to opt out of seeing the ads
  • Make it easy to unsubscribe from the email list
  • Make it clear we want to share what is welcome
  • Keep the focus on groups, not individuals unless they want to hear from us

We can do so much these days with data that it is easy to cross the line into “creepy” without intending to. I think the best way to avoid it is by marketing to others the way we ourselves like to be marketed to.