Advertising Isn't Creepy -- But You Might Be

The word “creepy” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to the ad business lately.  It used to be I couldn’t go to a conference without hearing two things: the first was a panel on millennials, and the second was that this was “the year of mobile.”   This year the norm is to comment on how marketers have to walk a fine line -- between targeting customers with their messaging by leveraging data, and being “creepy.”

Still, that comment is correct.  We do have to be careful, and common sense can help a lot.

Smart marketers are using data to deliver messages personalized to the audience they’re trying to speak to.  The problem is that personalization requires a relationship -- and, too often, marketers assume an implied acceptance of the relationship without actually earning it.  

Building a relationship with the consumer is literally no different from creating a relationship with anyone. Although I might stretch that analogy to say, it’s like building a relationship with someone from New York.  

Meeting a New Yorker for the first time, you realize they’re a little cynical.  (I can say this because I’m from New York -- and, no matter how long I’ve lived in California, when someone starts randomly talking to me, I still immediately wonder what they want from me. )  Once you break through that cynicism and to the heart of the matter, New Yorkers open up -- but there’s a period in which you don’t overstep your bounds.  So, getting back to customers, marketers have to earn that relationship before they can start assuming it exists.  

Data is only part of the solution, and if you rely solely on data then you absolutely do run the risk of being creepy — from the shoes that follow consumers around the Web for weeks even though they’ve already bought them, to the ads targeting them for health problems or life-stage events they haven’t yet announced to their family and friends.

 You need true permission.  That permission doesn’t have to be so overt as to be written or stated.  It can be implied through ongoing consumer-initiated interaction.  A click, a site visit, or even a keyword search might be enough to trigger that next step.  It’s a sign of interest.  

Consumers rarely, if ever, play hard to get.  If they’re interested in a product or service, they exhibit buy signs that can be read and leveraged to meet them on their path down the customer journey.  

If your brand turns off a consumer, you may lose her forever. This is is especially true if she’s turned off too early in the relationship. 

That overbearing assumption of implied consent by your brand to target the heck out of consumers all over the place can lead to a closed door.  It’s like showing up on a first date when the other person comes off too strong, starts sharing their life story and proposes marriage at the end of the night  -- while you’re still wondering when your phone is going to ring with some kind of distraction or “out.”  

At the very least, such a situation is wildly uncomfortable.  Now imagine if, after you left dinner, your date showed up at your door or your favorite coffee shop or at your grocery store, and wanted to talk some more?  That’s downright creepy.

This is why marketers need to put in place the tools to measure response, whether via landing pages, third-party measurement data, or other tools at their disposal.  You need to leverage additional information post-initial targeting to understand journey and where consumers may be in it.  You can’t solely rely on targeting and personalization of an audience -- you have to leverage the added dimension of time and ongoing interaction.  This knowledge, and the patience to make good use of it, can lead to a true relationship and can steer you away from being considered “creepy” in any way.

Advertising is still one of the world’s most effective tools for reaching and engaging with consumers. Judging by its increased presence in all media, it’s not going anywhere soon.  Still, we need to understand the new rules that guide our interactions and build relationships with the audiences we’re trying to speak with. Don’t you agree?

2 comments about "Advertising Isn't Creepy -- But You Might Be".
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  1. Steve Baldwin from Didit, August 3, 2016 at 11:51 a.m.

    The word "creepy" has usually been associated with aggressive retargeting. There's an "aha" moment that pops into a person's mind when he/she puts the pieces together. "OK - now I know why this ad is following me -- it remembers the fact that I shopped for shoes last week." And then there's a secondary moment: "I wonder what else they're tracking?" And then a third moment: "Who are they anyway?" Knowing what we know about identity theft, hacking, stalking, and survelliance, it's no big surpirse that people are put into a defensive mode -- and begin to think of taking evasive, self-protective action. If this means reaching for an ad blocker -- or an even more powerful tool -- it's a decision easily rationalized, and, I'd argue, a decision that is warranted given adtech's ineffective campaign to get people comfortable with being subjected to continuing (albiet "benign") survelliance. 

  2. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, August 3, 2016 at 12:18 p.m.

    Simply read the User Agreement that industry folk use in Apps and the simple answer is "It's CREEPY".

    Not knowing where the ads come from and who that follow people on the internet is CREEPY.

    People do not want to be tracked, hence the proliferation of Ad Blockers.

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