We have all seen targeted ads pop up on our social media feed, but do they convince us to buy, or on the contrary, do they give us a feeling that we are being tracked? This study explores the negative indirect effects of tracing and collecting through retargeted ads, where information collection about the user can be perceived as “creepy.” It explores the reactance theory, which explains the negative reaction of users to marketing tactics, notably because the individual acknowledges that the marketer is collecting and using his data.
Terms used in this study include “retargeted ad” which refers to an ad that contains specific information about one’s past browsing behavior, and “perceived marketing surveillance” which is defined as a consumer’s sense of awareness that marketers have tracked him in order to sell a product.
This study tried to determine whether targeted ads have a negative effect on consumers’ behaviors. When marketers use information that was not knowingly provided by the consumers (such as personal identifiers or past purchases), it makes them realize that the marketer acquired such information in some other way. However, this type of surveillance violates social normals, resulting in a perception of threat by the consumer.
280 students were gathered for this study, taking place in the U.S. They were exposed to two sites: a product and a Facebook page, for which they were asked to make an evaluation. The products featured were little-known brand products, not gender-specific, and all displaying the same prices and availability for each student (flash drive, acne cream, …).
The study explored several aspects: targeted ad vs. general product ad; demographically targeted copy vs. a general copy. To do so, on the Facebook page they examined, the students would find either a targeted ad from the product they just saw or another product (general ad). Additionally, the ad was either demographically targeted (ex: special promotion for the student’s university) or general (just a regular promotion).
The students were asked to analyze the first website (product), fill out a questionnaire, and then analyzed the second website (Facebook page containing the ads) and fill out a questionnaire. Questions revolved around how they felt (tracked, manipulated, negative or positive opinions, the likelihood of purchasing, …).
Results showed that behaviorally targeted ads resulted in greater perceived marketing surveillance than advertisements featuring general products. No main effect was determined for demographic targeting. Students showed a negative attitude towards the behaviorally targeted ads and therefore it negatively influenced their purchase intent. Retargeted ads are negatively perceived by consumers.
Lisa Farman, Maria Leonora (Nori) Comello and Jeffrey R. Edwards (2020), “Are Consumers Put Off by Retargeted Ads on Social Media? Evidence for Perceptions of Marketing Surveillance and Decreased Ad Effectiveness,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 64, No. 2, 298-319, DOI: 10.1080/08838151.2020.1767292