This features as part of our free supplement – ‘Getting Consumers Onside with Advertising’ – which is available to all PerformanceIN readers. 

With every view and every click, consumers leave a trail of where they go and what they do online. Advertisers appear intent on building a strong collection of these digital breadcrumbs, and have the luxury of being able to contact the provider of such clues at any point in the journeys they make thereafter. 

The situation at present would cut the resemblance of a marketing utopia some 20 years ago. It’s not exactly a luxury that gets taken for granted today, given the need among brands to base their messaging on solid insight and the criticism of ‘guesswork’ that leaves them catering for the people they think they’re selling to. 

It’s an ideal scenario, right up until the user’s own view is taken into account. 

According to Globalwebindex, ‘intrusiveness’ and concerns in regards to online privacy are among the top ten reasons why consumers block ads. Even if you don’t believe that to be true, when considering all the expected advances in ‘out of home’ targeting as our customers journey down the high street or catch a bus to work, coupled with advertisers’ demands to do more and more on mobile, it’s easy to see that the ability to target at any given time is going to become greater. 

Advertisers need data to better target customers, but users appear fed up with their boundaries being pushed. Striking a balance, therefore, is going to become all the more important as excitement over new technology and the possibilities of mobile ramps up. 

‘Creepy’ creative 

Growing from a piece of technology to a very personal companion people refer to throughout the day, the smartphone is a targeting goldmine for advertisers. They get access to their audiences almost 24/7 and can push out offers in line with what they know about the people on the receiving end. 

Advertising is more intelligent than ever before; increasingly served based on what consumers share, talk about and search for to create a more relevant experience. 

Nevertheless, the line between ‘targeted’ and ‘invasive’ creative is hard to navigate. A study from Ithaca reveals that tailored ads are sometimes found ‘creepy’ as they’re considered too personal. As a result, some forms of ads can have the opposite effect on buyers than what’s expected. In a similar study, Stanford also found targeted ads to be ineffective as consumers felt they were being ‘exploited’. 

Andrew Turner, head of partnerships at NMPi, takes the ad-blocking situation as a warning, stating that “users will not accept advertising they do not deem to help support their online experience”. 

He’s not the only one to pick up on the worrying signs. Savoo’s creative content and comms director Ed Fleming understands why consumers would think some practices carried out across the industry are invasive.

“Can we really say that we currently offer the consumer the very best experience?” he asks. 

Turner believes a key step is to improve communication with customers in the fight to gain back their trust. 

“If a user is clearly made aware that their purchase history will be used to infuence a future marketing message, they would be happy, with any that disapprove removed from future marketing.” 

Changing perceptions 

Although the data debate seems to be a contentious point in the industry, there is potential for tangible advantages for all involved and ads, served at the right time and with the right message, can boost sales. Rethinking advertising’s own branding and focusing efforts on the consumer could be the key to useful advertising that won’t get blocked. 

“If we continue to just blast them [customers] with thousands of ads that have no relevance to their lives, we will erode the experience forever,” says Fleming, adding that interacting with consumers shouldn’t just boil down to sales. Data and mobile targeting can be used to offer them “something different”. 

On that point, Turner believes consumer data should be shared with internal teams, agencies and partners to make better-informed media-buying decisions which, in turn, could be the “tipping point” in the change of perception of online advertising. 

Drawing a line 

With no rules surrounding how much is ‘too much’ when it comes to using data, the line between ‘useful’ and ‘invasive’ can be all too easy to cross. Considered the ‘most exciting’ mobile opportunity this year by two-thirds of marketers, location-based advertising could take the customer experience to the next level; bringing more precision and effectiveness to mobile ads. 

To drive value to both consumer and advertiser without appearing too ‘invasive’, Turner advises an ongoing dialogue to ensure progress. 

“Communicating to a user via their mobile that a store they’ve just walked past has a product in stock that was not available to them online is using data and customer insight to add value to all parties, “ he says, highlighting the importance of a value exchange where necessary. 

For Fleming, the key elements to bear in mind in conversations around this emerging capability are context and choice. 

“If a consumer has recently shopped with a retailer, the retailer knows what the person has bought and sends them a message saying, ‘Hi – we’ve noticed you haven’t shopped with us recently, but we wanted to let you know you can get 20% of a similar item – but please click here if you don’t want to receive these messages’, then I think the consumer will be fine.” 

Fleming adds that even in the case where shoppers have not purchased anything in a while, retailers can still invite them back to the store – to enter a competition or to just ask them a question – and the message doesn’t have to be about sales. 

“If the context and choice are right, then I believe the consumer will appreciate the interaction.”