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Personalised ads and avoiding ‘creepiness’ in targeted advertising

Rhys Johns, a Law with Business LLB(Hons) student, is taking the digital marketing module – I wanted to share with you his blog post on what to avoid when personalising advertising.

Targeted advertising is very useful from a business standpoint since it helps a company reach potential customers who (appear to) fall very much within its presumptive market segment (Farahat and Bailey, 2012). However, a balance needs to be struck between over generalisation and over personalisation. If the ad content is too personal it may be perceived as ‘creepy’, carrying with it a risk of ‘freaking out’ consumers; if its focus is too specific it runs the risk of its appeal being too narrow and thereby capturing only a limited proportion of the intended target demographic; too broad and the ad may be ignored altogether, or its impact diluted, with the product being pitched to a largely indifferent consumer populace. Personalising ads is therefore clearly a key element of targeted advertising, yet is fraught with problems

Info-graphic demonstrating effectiveness of targeted advertising

Found at:

Some ways advertisements are personalised

Before exploring the problems that can arise from personalisation in targeted advertising, it is important to briefly establish some of the channels in which targeted advertising can be utilised.

Targeting generally looks at behaviours, audience, time, and demographics in order to attract the consumers the ad is aimed at. Personalisation is useful to ensure that the ad is relevant to the user who sees it. This is achieved based on information given by the user to a company, information collected or inferred with ‘tags’, or found with data from a third-party (Davis, 2014 – provides a more extensive list of channels and types of targeted advertising)

Retargeting – the primary channel for personalised advertising. This is when a company tracks the browsing history on their website (and can extend to emails) using cookies to base advertisements on. To avoid the risk of being creepy, companies often detail the use of cookies when users visit (although, Cranshaw, 2012 suggest that Online Behavioural Advertising (OBA) disclosures need to be communicated clearly or they may go unnoticed). See Moth, 2014 to ensure retargeting isn’t intrusive.

Real-time bidding – a less personal form of retargeting that can be used to target more generic audiences i.e by demographic or geography and thus can be used to tailor an ad to a region by targeting IP addresses.

Social media advertising – popular social media sites such as Facebook have a lot of information on their users, thus they can utilise this information such as information users have inputted, interactions with others, pages they browse etc.

Source: Personalised ads and avoiding ‘creepiness’ in targeted advertising | This is Digital Marketing, a blog by Rhys Johns

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Asher Rospigliosi • June 7, 2017

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