Targeted Advertising: Creepy or Convenient?

Whether targeting is creepy or not is certainly not a new debate. But since I work with our clients on social media advertising everyday, audience targeting, and how it will be received, is something I think about a lot.

Social media channels offer a wide variety of targeting options, and there are some valid arguments out there about why it might make the audience feel like they’ve stepped into George Orwell’s 1984. Generally speaking, that’s not the feeling ads are looking to evoke.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that targeting is incredibly useful for online marketing and it’s not going away. Even notorious holdout Snapchat is coming around. So here are some strategies to use targeting in ways that will make both brands and customers happy.

1. Use purchase history targeting to introduce a new or unfamiliar brand.

According to an Adlucent survey, 71 percent of respondents said they would prefer ads tailored to their interests and shopping habits and 25 percent said personalized ads are a good a way to discover new products. Using purchase information can make ads informative and helpful rather than creepy, like seeing an ad for a new pet store when you frequently purchase pet supplies or for e-commerce sites because you haven’t shopped in a brick-and-mortar store in years.  

However, it’s still important to consider the product and use more than just purchase history when targeting. For example, no one likes getting ads for maternity clothes after buying a gift for a friend’s baby shower.

2. Use browsing information to upsell rather than predict interest.

I’ll use a personal example for this one. I recently spent time shopping for new running shoes on a couple of different sites. I was still unsure which model I wanted so I left all the sites without making a purchase. Over the next week or so, I was bombarded with ads for the exact running shoes I’d browsed.

According to a 2012 Fast Company survey, 68 percent of consumers find that kind of targeting creepy. From my perspective, it’s a little unnerving to see the product you just browsed show up in an ad, but mostly it’s really unhelpful. I already know I looked at that product and if I wasn’t interested enough to buy it then, your ad is probably not going to change my mind.

Instead of showing customers a product they’re already aware of, use browsing information to show them related products they might like even more. That way, at least there’s added value. Even better, use their purchase information to upsell. A customer recently bought new running shoes? Great! Maybe they want some sweat-wicking gear to go with their new kicks.  

3. Use targeting to reach the right people, don’t overcomplicate it!

At its most basic levels, online targeting tools just help you reach the people who are most likely to be interested in your brand or product and that’s helpful for everyone.

CMSWire explained it well when they differentiated between personal details and intimate details. Customers expect brands to know certain information about them, so think of targeting in terms of what you would be comfortable with a store clerk knowing. Then the personalization will feel like a brand has gone the extra mile to get to know you, without going a mile too far.

ritten by: Kelsey Thompson