June 7, 2017 / Rod McLennan

Hyper Targeted Advertising

Walking the Line Between Relevant and Creepy

By now we are used to seeing ads that target us based on our browsing history. Amazon ads are usually front and center, displaying various products related to items I’ve browsed or purchased on their site. Advances in data collection and data mining have only increased the ability for companies to reach customers in a more relevant and timely way across all channels.

Targeting advertisements can be tricky business as there is a fine line between delivering non-invasive relevant content to a consumer vs being perceived as ‘Big Brother’ watching every move. For example, a company marketing an allergy drug may target customers based on age, gender, allergen levels in their area, etc. These types of advertisements are relevant and generally well received.

Alternately, a customer walking into a store and having a screen greet them by name and show items in the store based on recent Google searches may be well-received by some but, to others, feel too invasive and reminiscent of the retinal scan billboards of Minority Report. I polled some colleagues on ads they felt crossed a line in personalization, and all of them cited examples of unexpected location awareness. In particular, they were left feeling uneasy having received location-specific targeted ads while on vacation.

At their recent annual Summit, Adobe engineers demonstrated the next generation of targeted advertising: virtual reality (VR). In a live demo, attendees were shown a virtual experience in which the video on both a Las Vegas billboard and a sign on a moving bus were replaced by personalized video ads within the virtual world. This next generation of targeted advertising has the far-reaching potential to target consumers and immerse them in exploration and gameplay in a way that has never been done before.

I think it’s safe to say we would all appreciate some level of personalization. As a 40-year-old professional male, I don’t need to see advertisements for sports bras or teenage laptop flare. I would prefer to see products relevant to my day-to-day life such as new technology products and trip deals to exotic places. In fact, a 2016 study done by Adlucent found that 71% of people prefer some level of personalization in ads that are served to them. Additionally, they are twice as likely to purchase a new product if the ad is personalized.

With recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and VR, it is even more apparent that we have a responsibility as advertisers and technologists to leverage our customer (or potential customer) data in a thoughtful and respectful way. While highly targeted ads may seem like a good idea on the surface, they have the power to not only foster relationships, but sour them as well.

How do we walk the line and deliver highly targeted and relevant ads without turning off customers with privacy concerns? Answer: Know your individual customer and roll out personalization incrementally. Is this a customer who has previously purchased your products, regularly opens marketing communications, interacts with your website, downloads and regularly uses your app? If the answer is yes, then she or he is much more likely to embrace a highly targeted experience since information that can be leveraged for personalization purposes has already been provided.

Don’t be the advertiser that bought a load of personal information from a data broker and immediately attempts to serve hyper-targeted ads. First, deliver a broadly targeted ad, such as an age or gender-based ad that will allow customers to engage with your brand in a non-invasive manner. Once that door is opened, the customer can be grouped with others who have engaged on that level and subsequent ads can be targeted appropriately.

Rod McLennan / Senior Technical Architect