Social Media

People don’t like ads that make them feel watched

July 9, 2010
Filed under From the Editors

Mike DavinAdvertising Age recently reported on an academic study that looked at people’s reaction to obtrusive and targeted online advertising — in layman’s terms, ads that are really in your face and the ads that match a site’s content.

The authors, Avi Goldfarb of the University of Toronto and Catherine Tucker of MIT’s Sloan School of Business, thought big, targeted ads would be particularly effective. However, while big ads proved successful and targeted ads seemed to work, the combination produced an interesting effect: People were a little creeped out. According to the article:

The report suggests that big units may make consumers think a little longer about the ads — normally a good thing — but might in the process give consumers a better chance to get spooked by the targeting. “Obtrusive ads may lead consumers to infer that the advertiser is trying to manipulate them,” the study states.

It’s something interesting to think about in this era when advertising can be increasingly tailored to individual consumers. On Google, ads are tied to specific keyword searches. On sites like Facebook, ads can be targeted by age, gender, location, interests and pretty much anything else. There have been times when I’ve paused after seeing an ad that seems particularly connected to what I’m doing online and thought, “How much information are they actually gathering about me?” Probably not the first thought you want a consumer to have about your brand.

Again, according to the study: “Our results show privacy matters in something of a subtle way in online advertising,” Goldfarb wrote. “Sometimes privacy violations are fine, sometimes they’re not.”

Of course, as many powersports businesses have learned, targeted online ads can be a good way to get a lot of bang for your buck. Especially now, when ad budgets are tight, it’s nice to have control of exactly how much you’re spending and who you’re reaching. But given the increasingly invasive feel of some online advertising, it’s worth taking a second look to make sure your ad doesn’t give off a Big Brother “we’re watching you” vibe.

Go here for the complete AdAge report.

Have you ever conducted any targeted advertising and what kind of results did you get?

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