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Behavioural targeting: the fine line between pleasure and pain


Behavioural targeting: the fine line between pleasure and pain


Consumers prefer relevant advertising.  Advertisers want relevant audiences.  It has always been the case, but until recently the ability to target consumers with meaningful precision has eluded marketers.  Until now.  With the increasing sophistication of the internet, this dream relationship between advertiser and consumer is becoming a reality.  I am of course talking about behavioural targeting – that spooky thing that happens when you like the State of Origin fan page on Facebook, then miraculously receive ads about touch football, university scholarships and cheerleaders.  

In the right hands, behavioural data is marketing gold dust, allowing advertisers to target consumers showing a clear interest in a product or category.  In the wrong hands, it’s a recipe for privacy concerns and unsuitable content being served to children after Dad’s inappropriate late night surfing session. 

A myriad of concerns exist over advertising triggered by browsing behaviour, with many consumers uncomfortable with the collection of their personal information.  However, our recent Digital Life study found that these concerns exist primarily amongst less digitally savvy consumers.  Those who are experienced online are becoming indifferent to it, particularly if they’re comfortable with the privacy settings enabled on their browsers, frequently visited sites and social networks. 

Some are even becoming welcoming of it.  In Digital Life, we posed the question: If advertisements were more relevant to you and your interests would you be more open to seeing them?  One in three Australians indicated interest in receiving more targeted advertising.  This is particularly the case when they get something in return.  As discussed in a previous post, when it comes to online video, consumers prefer free, legal access online, funded by advertising, than downloading TV or movies for free, illegally or paid subscription models.

With the advent of IPTV, behavioural targeting will also infiltrate our living rooms and TV content providers.  Media centres such as AppleTV and Google’s soon to be released set top box will enable a range of content including TV shows available from the free-to-air networks or from online sources such as YouTube, Hulu equivalent and so on. 

Australians are keen to take up this technology – 63% of would be interested in using this type of TV service.  Many advertisers are concerned that IPTV would enable people to avoid ads.  However, far from being a lost opportunity to reach consumers, the forecast uptake of IPTV offers advertisers the chance to pitch products to exactly the right audience.

By having the ability to analyse viewing habits and online behaviour, advertisers will be able to reach relevant audiences, with an interest in the content they’re serving.  For example, a consumer in the process of researching a new car online would be open to, and probably welcoming of, ads for cars. 

Many consumers are supportive of the prospect of more relevant advertising, but barriers still exist, with 55% of Australians concerned about advertisers knowing their viewing and browsing habits.  Similar uncertainties exist around location-based services but those are being overcome with experience, incentives and assurances.  Advertisers need to communicate safeguards and the ‘what’s in it for me’ to convince people it’s worth getting onboard.  In the case of IPTV, the incentive of being able to offer consumers the content they want, when they want it is a strong draw card.  

The IAB in the U.S. are doing some good work to self regulate and we believe movement is underway in Australia to do something similar.  With some rules and regulations in place to protect consumers and a proactive strategy from media to build trust and interest in targeted advertising, consumers may learn to thank advertisers, rather than be wary of them.


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