Relevant or Creepy?


One of the dilemmas we face with online advertising is identifying just where relevance stops and stalking starts. We all want to see ads that are relevant to us and our needs, but to what extent are we prepared to give up elements of our privacy to achieve that?

This dilemma is well illustrated within the latest manifestation of Kantar Media’s annual Dimension study. Across the five markets covered (UK, USA, China, France, Brazil), and a total sample of 5,000 connected adults, 61% say they prefer to see ads relevant to their particular interests. It may be a little surprising that that figure isn’t higher.

54% object to being targeted as a result of their past online behaviour.

When asked, less than 1 in 3 say they don’t mind providing a website or social media network with information about myself if it means that the advertising I see is more relevant to me’.

The desire for relevance is obvious; and yet so is the desire for privacy.

The more we know about someone – the more relevant the advertising; the more we know about someone – the greater the threat to their privacy.

I’ve recently bought a pair of shoes (news that will come as a huge surprise to those who remember me in agencies, where I famously never wore shoes. I guess we all grow old.)

I now can’t move for shoe ads on social media.

Once upon a time this was a strategy of sorts – the people most likely to buy Ecco shoes in the future were probably quite similar to those who had just bought a pair – but that argument doesn’t really work when we are talking about identifiable individuals. After all, I’m unlikely to buy another pair for several decades.

Nick Emery of Mindshare once shared an excellent analogy to explain online advertising. In his example, he’s walking through a department store on the way to buy a set of luggage. En route he walks through the shoe department. Without breaking stride, he comments to his wife: ‘That’s a nice pair of shoes’.

From then on he’s pursued through the store by a salesman yelling: ‘Buy these shows, buy these shoes!’ Naturally he doesn’t.

Online ads reach a lot of people and no doubt once or twice they’ve been known to work..(that’s a joke, chaps). But crass retargeting does not work; and most retargeting is crass.

Tracking people around the internet to my mind is wrong. It’s the line where using a mass advertising medium, with the potential to deliver audiences in a smart way tips over into stalking.

And where does this leave that wonder of the modern age – addressability?

I think the promise of addressability is around a creative as opposed to a media benefit. Yes, we can zero in on an individual and send them individually focussed messages – but the examples I’ve seen soon cross over the line to creepy.

On the other hand, if a strong strategic thought can be executed in a way that makes it particularly relevant to me without me thinking my every move is being tracked and reported on, then fine.

In any event, the demise of cookies, and the real possibility that soon we will be in a position to manage our own data and distribute it / sell it to whoever we like will go a long way towards resolving the dilemma.

We will all get to pick what is for us the balance between creepy and relevant. Doc Searls’ VRM vision is fast becoming a reality. The Cog Blog will look at that in a future post.


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