Is behavioural targeting backfiring?

11 Jun 2012  |  Liz Jaques 

"The more experienced users become, the more cautious they get in order to avoid aggressive tracking," claims Frederic Filloux in today's Monday Note.

Fillioux explains that he is becoming reluctant to click on banner ads through fear of being bombarded by "targeted" ads. He says he is not alone.

Targeted advertising, if it is properly done, cannot be a bad thing. Who would not want to see relevant ads rather than any old ad? My guess would be the majority - though lots of users associate online "tracking" with privacy issues and that is a problem.

There are also issues around technology noting what you may have searched for/clicked on and serving you relevant ads but then not realising you have purchased the item in-store, or that you were just searching for a friend/family member and actually you're not particularly interested in golf clubs, for example.

In this case, "targeted" ads could be irritating - but surely only as irritating as other irrelevant advertising? Are badly targeted online/mobile ads worse than any other ads? Is it because these platforms are more personal? Or maybe because they flash in your face while you are trying to do something else. TV ads can be fast-forwarded (sometimes) or used as a tea break. Outdoor ads can be ignored - as can print ads. You do see them but you don't have to. Online and mobile ads are right there - they are hard to get away from. Sometimes you attempt to close them and all of a sudden you've got an inappropriate ad flashing all over your screen.

Filloux talks of a 'dirty browser': "Now, I sacrifice a 'polluted' browser (and a specific email account) which I use to click on ads, download products or marketing information, and do my best to keep my other browsers clean."

In his view, "marketers have more sense of efficiency than of measure; they were quick to embrace these clever technologies without considering they might end up killing the golden goose. It is happening much earlier than anyone has anticipated".

Michael Bayler, strategist and author, Bayler & Associates, agrees: "The 'brand-stalking' issue is a classic example of how value for consumer and brand are getting out of kilter. Until now, consumers have been reasonably happy to - albeit largely unconsciously - hand over personal data in return for, as an example, the undoubted value of Google's search engine.

"For perhaps the first time, the general public are finding so-called targeted online and mobile messaging to be more intrusive and irritating than the TV slots they are supposed to supersede. This is not the rewarding personalisation of the concierge, it's the punishing Robocop-like gaze and persistence (not to mention the cost) of the speed camera.

"The interesting - indeed alarming - point here, is that this type of stalking may only be the thin end of the wedge. As the future of advertising and data (big, small or whatever) are in clear convergence, the pressure is on social and mobile platforms to deliver more refined, intimate intelligence to advertisers.

"As more than one person has commented, the prospect of not just whimsical searches for sporting goods, but say personal health concerns driving not just targeting of ads, but overlapping into our not-so-private profiles, becomes far too close for comfort. This is not, repeat not, the road to growth."

Michael Bayler will be appearing on The Data Debate panel at MediaTel Group's Media Playground 2012 event on Thursday - to find out more or book your ticket, click here.

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