An assistant professor of integrated marketing communications at Ithaca studied reactions to targeted Internet ads and found most users thought they were "really creepy." Some in the study felt targeted ads were too personal because they used data that consumers had not agreed to provide, such as search and browsing history. "You think you're discreetly buying condoms online," said one participant, "then you're on Facebook and there's an ad for condoms, and people are like, 'Hey dude, what have you been looking for online?'"
Amusingly, the professor conceded that targeted ads have a "direct, positive effect" on intent to purchase — presumably after you factor in the “creepiness,” which has the negative effect of up to a 5% reduction in intent to purchase the advertised product.
Like you, I have mixed feelings
about targeted, personalized ads. I find the ones for hotels or restaurants in London that show up right after I have booked my flight to the U.K. to be pretty cool and helpful. On the other hand,
when that pair of shoes you looked at and decided not to buy follows you around the Internet for a few weeks afterward, you think, "Okay, enough already."
While in the proper environment, say when I am ON an ecommerce site, I am happy to get recommendations based on prior browsing, search or purchase behavior. But once I leave, to be retargeted by those same recommendations is more tiresome than helpful.
Anyone who has seen them knows the profiles of "who you are" based on online data collection have historically been wildly off base, often getting basics like gender and location dead wrong. But as data collection has gotten far more sophisticated (much of it going on without consumer knowledge — much less permission), profiles have improved. Much of what I see is at least remotely appropriate for my demographic (if not for me).
Still, as more and more of our lives — like banking transactions and medical records — move online or to mobile, there’s little doubt that consumers burned by inappropriate data deployment will decide that the only complete protection is ad blockers and other technology that keep legitimate ad companies from executing on their promises to brands.
The privacy wonks are more than happy to lump all data collection together, having decided that online and mobile tracking is at its roots bad for humanity. They rightfully claim that all of online is subject to hackers (so, too, are in-store credit-card transactions, as we have all experienced at one time or another) and that even if there is some legitimacy to the free-content-thanks-to-ads paradigm, the public remaining willfully unaware of what is "good" data collection and what is "bad" is an almost irresolvable problem.
The industry has stepped up its efforts to try and explain data collection and provide op-out opportunities, but I suspect that, as the ability to "serve the right ad, to the right person, at the right time" gets ever closer, the rain will fall on the just and the unjust alike.