Should online browsers be told they’re being targeted?
While many consumers say they’re creeped out by the knowledge that they’re being targeted based on their browser history, a new study finds telling them may improve clicks and conversions.
Researchers from Ohio State University found that young internet users tended to embrace the identity labels — such as “environmentally conscious” or “sophisticated” — implied by the online ads they received. The key was that the college students in the study needed to know the ads were targeted based on their browser history.
In several experiments, participants were more likely to make a purchase or a donation if they knew the ads were targeted based on their browser history. By comparison, those who were told the ads were targeted based on their demographic characteristics were just as likely to purchase as those who did not think they were targeted.
Moreover, the study showed such targeted ads could change people’s views about themselves.
“If an ad makes you feel sophisticated or environmentally conscious, you are more likely to engage in all kinds of behaviors related to that trait — not just buy the advertised product,” said Rebecca Walker Reczek, a marketing professor at Ohio States, in a statement.
One caveat is that the targeted ad has to be somewhat accurate. For instance, the behavior of consumers with no interest in outdoor activities were not influenced by targeted ads for outdoor products.
The study concludes that, despite a reluctance by advertisers to reveal the use of targeted ads due to privacy concerns, transparency ultimately benefits brands since behaviorally targeted ads are only effective when consumers know they’re being targeted.
One challenge is that surveys show most consumers don’t know about AdChoices, a small blue triangle that usually appears in the corner of advertisements to let consumers know they’re being targeted. Clicking the icon, first introduced in 2012, also lets consumers gain information and opt out from ads.
Researchers encouraged advertisers to use AdChoices and explore other ways to let consumers know they’re being targeted.
- Targeted online ads can actually change how you view yourself – Ohio State University
- Targeted Ads Don’t Just Make You More Likely to Buy — They Can Change How You Think About Yourself – Harvard Business Review
- An Audience of One: Behaviorally Targeted Ads as Implied Social Labels – Journal of Consumer Research
- AdChoices: Do Consumers Know They Can Control the Creepiness? – eMarketer
- Your AdChoices
Do you see more benefits than drawbacks in letting consumers know they’re being targeted by ads based on their online behavior? How should they be told?