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Prisoners of preferences.

Prisoners of preferences.

Our new study finds that people feel increasingly targeted according to their behaviours – but that many consumers are also more empowered by their data use. 

The online world is the new battleground in advertising regulation. According to recent figures published by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), complaints about online adverts outnumbered complaints related to TV ads by almost three to one in 2018. In total, the watchdog received 16,059 complaints about online ads last year, an increase of 41% on 2017.

It’s not hard to see why. As programmatic advertising and data harvesting have become increasingly sophisticated, the ability of brands to target consumers with highly personalised – but potentially intrusive – advertising has grown and grown. Recent scandals, such as the exposé of Cambridge Analytica and its misuse of Facebook data, have added to the distrust around online advertising.

With our theme of ‘Power’ as a guide, we wanted to see how this contentious landscape is impacting the power dynamics between brands and consumers in 2019. A survey of 327 UK adults, conducted by BJL and Dentsu Aegis Network, looked at how people feel about issues such as targeted advertising, online recommendations and their ability to change their data settings. In this way, we aimed to test the notion that consumers may have become the ‘Prisoners of their Preferences’. 

Regularly targeted, regularly annoyed

The research shows that a majority of people (60%) agree with the statement ‘I am regularly targeted with advertising messages based on my personal data and behaviours’. The poll also reveals that this high level of awareness at being targeted is present when it comes to more specific forms of brand behaviour. For example, 51% of respondents said that after they search for a brand or visit a particular brand’s website, they notice adverts from that same brand on other websites either ‘frequently’ or ‘very frequently’.

When it comes to social media, 42% of consumers agree that their feeds increasingly feature adverts which are targeted at their preferences, data or behaviours, compared to 24% who disagree. And when asked for their response to targeted advertising, the most popular selection was ‘Annoying’ (36%) followed by ‘Creepy’ (25%). Only 7% selected ‘Useful’ and just 2% said ‘Relevant’.

But does this mean that consumers feel ‘trapped’ by their preferences? Well, not quite. The research shows that a significant proportion of people (29%) say they feel confident that they can easily change their preferences or data settings with brands in order to change the way they are targeted.

This is exactly the same proportion of people who don’t feel confident about how to change their data settings (29%), while most people (41%) say they are unsure. In other words it’s a mixed bag.

The fact remains, though, that when asked whether brands still hold too much data on them, a massive 72% of people said they either agree or strongly agree. This indicates that there’s a long way to go for brands and marketers to win the trust of consumers.

The value of creativity

The widespread apathy towards targeted advertising should be seen as an opportunity for adaptable and creative brands. In the rush to make the most of the channels available to them, some advertisers have clearly gone overboard by bombarding potential customers with messages that are failing to have the desired effect. Indeed only 7% of respondents said they click through on targeted adverts frequently or very frequently, versus 39% who do so rarely and 40% who never do it.

To turn the tide on this lack of engagement, brands need to put much greater emphasis on effectiveness and, crucially, creativity. As marketing experts such as Les Binet and Peter Field have shown, there is a clear correlation between the popularity of creative concepts and storytelling devices within advertising, and their effectiveness in achieving tangible commercial goals.

Brands are therefore better off putting creativity at the heart of their digital marketing campaigns. Indeed rather than jumping at every opportunity to put a message in front of a consumer, they should deepen their understanding of how best to engage their audience – and back up these insights with powerful creative.

The BJL Way

That joined-up approach is central to how we at BJL strive to engage consumers. You can see it in our latest campaign for wood stain brand Ronseal, where we took a particular insight (the fact that most young homeowners lack the DIY skills and know-how of their parents’ generation) and then spoke to that audience on the channels they were most likely to use.

This included creating online video tutorials and a new ‘Pocket Parent’ on Facebook Messenger which provides automated responses and advice, generated from the real-life parents, when prompted with DIY questions.  In other words, we steered clear of mass targeting and instead served content in the places our audience were most likely to be looking for it.

The strong results we’ve seen back from that campaign so far are vindication for this approach. Furthermore, having recently joined Dentsu Aegis Network, we see big opportunities ahead for how we can bring creativity – and even greater joined-up thinking – to highly targeted, digital campaigns.

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