The Personalisation Myth

03 Jul 2018  |  Paul Marsden 
The Personalisation Myth

Businesses have the opportunity to repair the data-driven trust deficit in marketing by putting privacy before personalisation, writes Paul Marsden

As the GDPR dust settles and a new ePrivacy storm brews, regulation is making it harder for marketers to personalise what people see online. But new research from SYZYGY suggests that personalisation may be yesterday’s game.

Nine out of 10 people in the UK, US and Germany do not want the advertising that they see to be personalised. And for the few who are open to personalised ads, only a minority (38%) believe it’s worth giving up any online anonymity in order to get it.

Privacy, it would seem, now eats personalisation for breakfast.

So, what’s new? Research regularly shows that people do not want personalised advertising and find it intrusive and creepy. As Buzzfeed’s launch editor Luke Lewis concludes, the desire for personalisation is largely a myth - data simply doesn’t support it. Marketing professor Mark Ritson concurs, most people are antagonistic to the view of marketers that personalised marketing is somehow a good thing.

It’s no surprise that an article by a finalist for a recent ADMAP thought leadership award was entitled Personalised Advertising is an Oxymoron.

What is new news is the finding that audiences appear to be voting with their wallets. SYZYGY’s research found that over half (55%) of UK adults now believe that the brands and services they use already know too much about them, and more than one in three UK adults (36%) have stopped using an online service or retailer in the past year because they don’t trust them with their data.

Similar figures exist for the US and Germany. So, whilst digital marketers may be able to eek out a few more clicks by harvesting personal data and personalising ads to exploit people’s biases, prejudices and data, the question is at what cost?

Some digital marketers will undoubtedly persist in pursuing the Pollyanna panacea of personalisation. Why? Perhaps it is because for many of us, the dystopian vision of Minority Report actually represents some kind of advertising utopia.

In traditional digital advertising, the vision of ‘one-to-one’ marketing remains a central dogma where the right message is delivered to the right person at the right time, every time. It doesn’t matter that people don’t want it, our marketing faith prescribes it.

However, instead of running roughshod over people’s privacy and preferences, businesses now have the opportunity to repair the data-driven trust deficit in marketing by putting privacy before personalisation. This doesn’t mean the end of personalisation. It just means we need to rethink it.

We could begin by respecting the basic tenets of marketing ethics and ensure that any personalisation is voluntary, overt and transparent. If people want to see personalised content on an opt-in basis, then that’s fine as long as we ensure that it is clearly labelled as such.

And of course, if people want to personalise what they see for themselves, then that’s fine too – just don’t do it for them without their consent or awareness.

Personalisation. This time it’s personal.


Dr. Paul Marsden is media psychologist, SYZYGY Group

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