Should online browsers be told they’re being targeted?

Discussion
Apr 08, 2016

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.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
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?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"By delivering ads without making clear to consumers they are being targeted, marketers are contributing to an issue that will be an ideal topic for 60 Minutes one day in the future."
"If I see one more ad for the Chevy Malibu or for a drug for moderate to severe whatever, I’m going to blow a gasket. Ok, not really. I just ignore them, like I do ads elsewhere. So yeah, this makes total sense. The more transparency, the better."
"There are absolutely more benefits for consumers to know they are being targeted and of course the advertising industry wants to believe just the opposite. It’s called TRUST."

Join the Discussion!

14 Comments on "Should online browsers be told they’re being targeted?"


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Steve Montgomery
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I didn’t know that there were still people who did not realize that their browser history was being used to target them for ads. Not sure how they thought the ads for new windows kept showing up after they researched window replacement online.

This like so many issues we discuss regarding technology may be generational. As the article indicates, the young seem to like being labeled as long as the label is something they regard as positive. I am not sure the same would be true for older consumers.

IMHO letting consumers know that they are being targeted for ads based on their browser history would be a benefit for the consumer but perhaps not for the advertisers. I delete my browser history daily. If more people truly understand they are being targeted for ads based on their browser history perhaps they would do the same.

Warren Thayer
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I’m with Steve Montgomery on this one 100 percent. Further, when I looked at the study online, it appears that there are actually four separate studies, three of which were answered by fewer than 200 undergraduate college kids. The fourth part of the study was of 269 adults, average age 34.9. Somebody correct me if I am wrong, but I wouldn’t be wanting to make marketing decisions based on this.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

If consumers have not figured out that the ads they received are targeted, they deserve getting targeted ads. My wish is that we had a way to totally op out of targeted ads.
If someone knows away please let me know.

For example I use a search engine with the strange name of www,duckduckgo.com because it gives everyone the same search result not based on who you are or what you have searched for in the past.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

With all the targeting and retargeting happening today, I think it’s safe to say shoppers are aware they’re being watched. Direct communications to shoppers have everything to do with relevancy, of course. If the communications are attractive and compelling, shoppers will see the benefits of being targeted.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I think people are realizing they are targeted online just like they are seeing video surveillance camera in the stores with the little sign “This premise is being recorded”. To an extent it is like the browser notice I get about the site tracking me with cookies, the bulk of the time most people just dismiss the notice and go on with their day. I think it is generational. Just like people initially objected to video surveillance in retail, it is now an accepted practice. The same goes for online tracking, it will become the norm but there will be a percentage of consumers that will change their behavior because of it.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
6 years 1 month ago
By delivering ads without making clear to consumers they are being targeted, marketers are contributing to an issue that will be an ideal topic for 60 Minutes one day in the future. With all the research available that points to the importance of transparency, clarity and honesty sought out by Millennials from brands, it seems to me a no-brainer to disclose targeting. To anyone resisting the disclosure of targeted ads, I would ask “what are you afraid of?” My instinct is also that consumers “do” know they are being targeted. Common sense tells us that it is so. Just earlier this week I reviewed a new bike software named Zwift. In the days since my visit to their site, Zwift ads are showing up in my search streams and on other sites I visit online. What am I to conclude from that? Citing the statement from the lead-in article below: ” … despite a reluctance by advertisers to reveal the use of targeted ads due to privacy concerns, transparency ultimately benefits brands since behaviorally targeted… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Any outside monitoring should require prior approval by the consumer. Hidden targeting is just a poor way of conducting data mining, and consumers have a right to know. The target companies should be required (as well as a compelling and ethical requirement) to communicate this to their audience.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
6 years 1 month ago

Ah, I’m sophisticated? Environmentally conscious? Fashion forward? Demonstrate wonderful taste? Am very generous?

I’m sure some insecure or fragile people will dig this and will enjoy being “complimented” and judged worthy by a faceless, unseeing, unfeeling data center somewhere. But I find the entire concept of categorizing people in this manner to be personally offensive. Sure, we all know our browsers are constantly being targeted and mined and we (mostly) accept that. But faux behavioral targeting and marketing based on that is manipulative in a way that is beyond the pale.

William Hogben
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Everyone should understand modern advertising, how it works, and how to protect themselves against those who abuse it. However, sharing the individual demographic labels used directly with the consumer is too much, and it implies that when no label is provided they are not being targeted which is never the case.

Adam Herman
Guest
6 years 1 month ago
I find it surprising that we believe consumers don’t know they are being targeted; that is one of the reasons for the resurgence of Ad Blockers and the increase in cookie tag deletion. In a sense, how different is it from a TV show that has a young female audience and ads that run in the show that are for young female products? The same can be said for radio, magazines, etc. It is the nature of the advertising business for the last 75 years. Not sure where the big shock is to consumers. The one addition to this phenomena is retargeting, where brands now send personalized ads to consumers, not for who they are (demographic, behavioral, lifestyle targets), but by what their online shopping habits are on a particular site. Does it edge to creepy? Perhaps to some, but it is providing reasons for consumers to rethink a purchase (often benefiting from an extra discount or free shipping or alerting them an out of stock item is available) and our clients are seeing much… Read more »
Chuck Palmer
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I believe this was the promise of targeted ads. The more we participate the more relevancy the message holds. But that hasn’t happened.

If I see one more ad for the Chevy Malibu or for a drug for moderate to severe whatever, I’m going to blow a gasket. Ok, not really. I just ignore them, like I do ads elsewhere.

So yeah, this makes total sense. The more transparency, the better.

Shep Hyken
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

First, most people know that once they start to interact on a website they are going to be tracked. Take it the next level and tell the customer. And, promise to only share relevant and valuable information that the customer would want. When you tell them, and the customer agrees to it, you may have a new customer that appreciates you, respects you, and may ultimately become loyal to you.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

There is no real confusion here. Consumers all want to keep up to date and know what the latest trends and popular people, places and things are. They just don’t want anyone to know about them. If consumers knew just how much information is out there about them, most — especially the ones that think they know — would be shocked. The Pentagon, NSA, CIA, FBI and so on and so forth purchase most information from e-tailers and retailers of any and all types and what is not for sale is traded for. Opening their eyes will surge growth in the the now all but forgotten television, newspapers and radio, leaving the internet for those with nothing to hide.

Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
6 years 1 month ago

There are absolutely more benefits for consumers to know they are being targeted and of course the advertising industry wants to believe just the opposite. It’s called TRUST. In brands and in media/publishers.

It’s a naive argument that consumers should know better when advertisers and publishers work hard to optimize how to serve up ads in increasingly non-traditional ways (i.e, that consumers don’t fully understand, much less appreciate). Europe is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to informing consumers of ad tracking and targeting.

The world is increasingly transparent and the advertising industry needs to wake up and deal with the new reality.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"By delivering ads without making clear to consumers they are being targeted, marketers are contributing to an issue that will be an ideal topic for 60 Minutes one day in the future."
"If I see one more ad for the Chevy Malibu or for a drug for moderate to severe whatever, I’m going to blow a gasket. Ok, not really. I just ignore them, like I do ads elsewhere. So yeah, this makes total sense. The more transparency, the better."
"There are absolutely more benefits for consumers to know they are being targeted and of course the advertising industry wants to believe just the opposite. It’s called TRUST."

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