It's no secret to industry watchers that political campaigns are stepping up their use of online "microtargeting," or serving ads to people based on the combination of demographics, online behavior, and offline behavior -- including voter registration records.
While marketers who run political campaigns generally tout microtargeting, consumers aren't thrilled by the idea. A new study by Joseph Turow -- a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications -- concludes that nearly 9 in 10 Americans (86%) want no part of targeted political ads.
Notably, people seemed to dislike the idea of targeted political ads more than other types of behaviorally targeted ads. When asked about behavioral targeting overall, 61% of around 1,500 Americans polled said they didn't want to receive ads based on their activity at other sites, while 56% said they didn't want tailored news and 46% rejected customized discounts.
(Those results appear consistent with a 2009 report by Annenberg and UC Berkeley School of Law, which found that 66% of Americans reject tailored ads, 57% don't want tailored news stories, and 49% didn't want personalized discounts.)
Not only do people dislike targeted ads, but nearly two in three Americans (64%) say they are less likely to vote for a candidate they support if they learn that his or her campaign has engaged in online behavioral targeting. An even greater proportion, 70%, say they are less likely to vote for a candidate they support if they learn that the campaign sends Facebook ads to their friends -- which can happen when people “like” a candidate on the social networking service.
Of course, the responses don't necessarily mean that microtargeting will cost politicians votes. For one thing, consumers might not realize why they're seeing particular ads. For another, when elections roll around people might decide to vote for the candidate they support regardless of ad strategies.
Besides, as a practical matter, voters might not have much choice. After all, if most political campaigns decide to deploy microtargeting, voters won't have many alternatives.