Are younger generations less creeped out by online personalization?

Photo: Getty Images/FluxFactory
Sep 30, 2022

A new survey finds many targeted ads and personalized emails make consumers feel “creepy,” but more so with Boomers than younger generations. In comparison to a 2021 survey, more members of younger generations also found such marketing techniques to be “cool.”

The survey of 5,404 consumers across Australia, France, Japan, Spain, U.K., Ireland and the U.S. came from Cheetah Digital.

Among those questionable techniques:

  • Advertisements that follow you across devices: Seen as “creepy” by 72 percent of Boomers versus 60 percent of Gen-X, 56 percent of Millennials and 59 percent of Gen-Z. Compared to Cheetah Digital’s 2021 survey, 18 percent more Millennials and Gen-X now see this technique as “cool.”
  • Advertisements from companies I don’t know based on location data: Seen as “creepy” by 78 percent of Boomers versus 65 percent of Gen-X, 61 percent of Millennials and 63 percent of Gen-Z. Compared to the 2021 survey, there was an eight percent decline in Gen-Z, Millennials and Gen-X who find this “creepy.”
  • Advertisements related to something talked about near a smart device: “Creepy” to 74 percent of Boomers versus 59 percent of Gen-X, 56 percent of Millennials, and 55 percent of Gen-Z. Since the 2021 survey, there was a 16 percent decrease in Millennials seeing this as “creepy.”
  • Advertisements on social media sites based on recent shopping: Seen as “creepy” by 60 percent of Boomers versus only 44 percent for Gen-X, 40 percent of Millennials and 36 percent of Gen-Z. Compared to the 2021 survey, there was a 16 percent increase in Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X since 2021 finding this “cool.”

According to the 2022 Gartner Customer Service and Support Survey, 71 percent of B2C customers expect companies to be well informed about their personal information during an interaction, but they’ve also become increasingly alarmed about how their data is being used.

Gartner predicts 75 percent of the world’s population will have its personal information covered by modern privacy regulations by 2025. Brad Fager, Gartner senior director analyst, said in a recent statement, “This reiterates the need for brands to leverage customer data with a proper understanding of customer preferences, terms of service and relevant regulation.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What should marketers take away from evidence that younger generations may be more open to personal data-driven online marketing schemes? Will many of today’s “creepy” online marketing techniques eventually be seen as “cool”?

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"I suspect the future will see more tracking, more personalization and, sadly, more data breaches and more bad actors taking advantage of people."

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11 Comments on "Are younger generations less creeped out by online personalization?"

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Ken Morris

A fish doesn’t know it’s swimming in water. And it doesn’t understand what a hook is until it’s too late. In other words, younger generations are so comfortable with technological advances, some personalization techniques are going unnoticed or not seen as an invasion of privacy. An unofficial survey of a one-person Gen Z sample just now suggests that they didn’t have to read George Orwell’s “1984”. That could also explain a lot.

Younger generations may be more open to privacy invasion, but a 60 percent creep factor is not overwhelming support for the techniques. We only need to look to Europe for tight privacy laws, and this will be coming to a state near you. The success of something like DuckDuckGo that provides anonymity while browsing is a portent of the future. I agree with Garner on this wave of “privacy tools” (see also Orwell). Understand your customers preferences and just because you can reach out doesn’t mean you should.

Lisa Goller

Marketers need personalized, targeted campaigns vs. mass messaging to resonate with younger consumers. Shoppers want companies to know them as individuals. Relevant, timely promotions based on location, keyword and purchase data are more likely to convert.

Consumers across generations will eventually, if reluctantly, accept these marketing tactics as the balance tips from privacy to personalization.

Gary Sankary

I respectfully disagree. When companies misuse this information, and they do, there will be some backlash. California’s consumer privacy laws and GDPR are just the beginning.

Gary Sankary

Based on my personal research conducted around my dinner table, this is 100 percent accurate. My adult children have no qualms sharing a ton of personal information. They counter my objections with “what is so interesting about your life that you feel the need to hide it.” My counter to their comments is not appropriate for this forum. I suspect the future will see more tracking, more personalization and, sadly, more data breaches and more bad actors taking advantage of people.

David Spear

Although there’s a sizable percentage of Boomers and Gen Xers who feel creeped out from some of these marketing techniques, the numbers are becoming more favorable for brands to test new tactics. Brands should lean in to this and amp up their capabilities regarding hyper-personalization. If done correctly, brands can zero in and deliver outstanding experiences that consumers love. In turn, consumers will reward brands with additional information and sales. For brands, they cannot take this relationship or private information for granted. They must safeguard it and never allow it to be sold for other purposes. Just last week we commented about Sephora, who was the first company to be fined by CCPA for $1.2 million for not disclosing to their trusted consumers that they were selling personal information. If brands can’t live up to their end of the bargain, then consumers will quickly vote with their feet.

Evan Snively

When something is novel it can evoke one of two reactions: uncertainty (creepy) or wonder (cool). With personalized, data-driven marketing tactics eventually both ends of the spectrum will meet in the middle. Younger generations will think of them as just everyday (or even get bored and bothered) and older generations will learn to accept them as just how things are done.

Ken Wyker

Personalization options:

  1. Using third-party data from other sources to TARGET the customer: Creep factor = HIGH
  2. Using first-party data that the customer provides to SERVE the customer: Creep factor = LOW
Shep Hyken

This is what younger generations are used to. It’s what they have always known. Yet even though younger consumers may be more open to higher levels of personalization, retailers can’t abuse the data, or like any customer, young or old, they will turn off to the brand.

Brad Halverson

A short survey among my Gen Z kids shows they want to be seen by companies as individuals, but creep factor tactics must be dialed back. Some retail websites they browse push pop-up windows or send follow-up marketing emails with “we saw you looking at X, still want it?”, or “we noticed you liked item X “. Just because they viewed an item doesn’t mean they like it, nor wish to be contacted. A good retail salesperson wouldn’t do this in-store, so why would companies do this online?

For personalization to work, give online shoppers the advantage to opt-in, to reach out and ask questions when ready.

Ananda Chakravarty

These four use cases are creepy enough for someone growing up without a smartphone, but the differences at the most extreme levels is about 24% between Boomers and Gen Z. I’m not sure the distinction is that substantial, except for the last use case of social media, everything was within 20% and in most cases at least half of Gen Z was creeped out. The distinction here is that social media is the acceptable factor for Gen Z, not that companies have their data and information.

John Hennessy
John Hennessy
Retail and Brand Technology Tailor
2 months 5 days ago

This research is echoed by a recently released (Sept. 26) Deloitte research report, “Fresh food as medicine for the heartburn of high prices.” Millennials were more willing to share their health and medical data to get food recommendations than older boomers. The critical element for marketers is to provide messaging value in exchange for permission. Messaging needs to be relevant and be about that shopper. When messages are relevant, the information is helpful. When done less well, it’s creepy and intrusive. Even boomers have trusted sources whose messages they don’t consider intrusive. Delivering relevant messages is hard work.

"I suspect the future will see more tracking, more personalization and, sadly, more data breaches and more bad actors taking advantage of people."

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