In the last several years, at least two major research studies concluded that most consumers dislike online behavioral advertising -- or ad targeting based on people's Web-surfing history.
But the ad trade group Digital Advertising Alliance says a study it commissioned, slated for release on Thursday, shows that most consumers prefer receiving interest-based ads to “random” ads.
For the self-regulatory group's study, pollsters from Zogby asked 1,000 respondents whether they would rather see online ads “for random/generic products and services,” or “ads for products and services that reflect your interests.”
Around four in 10 respondents -- 40.5% -- said they would prefer ads tailored to their interests, while 16% said they would prefer generic ads. An additional 28% said they would like both kinds of ads.
But when pollsters phrased that question, they didn't use the terms “online behavioral advertising” or “tracking.” The question also doesn't indicate how companies would determine whether particular ads reflect users' interests. For that reason, it's not clear whether respondents assumed pollsters were referring to behavior-targeted ads, as opposed to ads served based on the content that is currently being viewed.
DAA Managing Director Lou Mastria discounts the prospect that respondents were thinking of contextual ads. He says such ads don't necessarily relate to users' interests. “If I'm on the sports page, but am not a golfer, and you show me a golf ad, that doesn't really reflect my interests,” Mastria says.
Mastria adds that the survey didn't use the word “tracking” because that term “lends itself to fear-mongering.” The DAA itself doesn't use the word tracking in its standards. Instead, it defines online behavioral advertising as serving ads based on “data collected across sites over time.”
Last year, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that most Web users -- 68% -- dislike receiving targeted ads because they didn't want to be tracked and profiled. Only 28% of respondents in the Pew study said they were okay with behavioral targeting.
Those results were consistent with a study released in September of 2009 by professors at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. That report revealed two out of three Web users don't want customized ads.
In its survey, the DAA also asked respondents whether they would prefer an Internet without ads, but where they had to pay for “most content like blogs, entertainment sites, video content and social media,” or “today's Internet model in which there are ads, but most content is free.” The vast majority -- 75% -- said they would prefer a free, ad-supported Internet.
The DAA also posed a question relating to Mozilla's recent announcement that the new version of its Firefox browser would come with default settings that block the third-party cookies used by ad networks. Researchers asked respondents: “If a major Internet browser makes it harder for companies to display advertising to users, what do you think will be the impact on your user experience?” Forty-one percent of respondents predicted that they would have “less access to free content,” while 28% said they thought the move would have no effect.
The Digital Advertising Alliance issues self-regulatory privacy principles for online ad companies. The organization includes the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Direct Marketing Association, Association of National Advertisers, Network Advertising Initiative, American Association of Advertising Agencies and others.