Commentary

Tech, Age, Anxiety Impact Our Response To Personalized Advertising

For as long as I have been covering mobile media (since 2003 or so), most of us in the field have been underscoring these technologies as “personal,” without fully appreciating all the implications of that simple concept. But a decade into the mobile transition, we are still gleaning just how profound the implications of “personal” are. Just ask consumers themselves about their relative expectations of the major digital platforms.

That is what IPG Media Labs and Yahoo did by testing 81 ad variations with various kinds of personalization on 5,000 users. Across the board, as devices got smaller and more intimate, users expected higher degrees of customization, with phones indexing highest (110) and PCs lowest (91).

And while we would assume that users expect location-based information from mobile (133, vs 81 for PC), it is notable that phones also overindex (123) on the question of whether they should “provide immediate answers when needed.” The suggestion here is that people are even more demanding, perhaps impatient, with devices than with traditional PCs and the Internet. By a wide margin, users expect that ads will provide geo-located information.

Since personalization requires the use of behavioral data, it is important to note people’s tolerance for tracking and leveraging different types of data. Generally less than a quarter of users were comfortable with providers using the location of friends, email data and gleanings from social media as elements of personalization. On the other hand, 39% were comfortable with providers using past searches, while 42% were OK with using location. Generally, users prefer marketers are using general demographic parameters like age, gender and entertainment habits, time of day and previous ad exposure.

But when users were actually shown personalized ads, they responded best to messaging that used location (184), search terms (175), past purchases (170) and life events (157). Overall, the study found that the ads most relevant to consumers were the ones that combined previous ad exposure, behavioral patterns and life stages.

Millennials are expecting personalization and are more tolerant of the sourcing of those personalization elements than those over 35. In fact, there is a 9% gap between younger and older users over personalization based on social media data sources.

Eagerness for personalization of ad content appears to be in direct correlation with the difficulty of the purchase itself and the anxiety surrounding it. For instance, the auto category overindexes at 111 for when personalization is appreciated, as does travel (103). Respondents also said they want more custom content involving purchases they consider most meaningful -- namely auto and telecom.

People’s response to and tolerance for personalized messaging is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. This research suggests there are multiple parameters at work: age, the kind of purchase and the environment in which the user encounters the ad content.  

The full IPG Media Lab and Yahoo study is available here.

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