Something is Following You: Targeted Display Advertising

The internet knows what you did last summer. Well… not really, but it definitely knows what you browsed in the last 30 days. There’s a stalker on the loose and its name is targeted display advertising.

What is Targeted Display Advertising?

Targeted display advertising is essentially banner ads that “target” ideal customers based on their demographics, location and behavioral patterns. That’s right, behavioral patterns. You’re being tracked based on every micro-action you make online, like pages you visit, and clicks you make. If you think this is starting to sound like “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, you’re not far off. It’s no surprise some users feel targeted display advertising is too intrusive. In fact, 71 % of U.S. consumers are concerned about the information being collected by brands online.

This spooky journey begins when you visit a site. A cookie, much like a friendly ghost, is stored in your computer and follows you around the web to collect your information and online history. Once you return to the site that placed the cookie, all that information is collected. The site uses this information to learn a little more about your interest and buying habits every time you visit. Digital advertisers then create personalized ads that may best resonate to your persona.

How Far is too Far?

What crosses the line when it comes to targeted display advertising? Some ads appear seamlessly, seeming more like a coincidence than a calculated move. The targeted display ad that most people can’t ignore is the one highlighting the online shopping cart you’ve abandoned, featuring the slightly dated sun hat you decided not to buy. The issue is this, the advertiser doesn’t know if you “forgot” about it or if you just don’t want to buy it anymore. Yet, they will continue to push it to the dismay of the customer. In all fairness, advertisers show that these types of consumer data driven ads outperform others by increasing sales growth and gross margins.

Having an online “stalker” might actually not be a bad thing (HR please ignore). Targeted display advertising seems less menacing when it’s viewed as a friendly reminder rather than a cynical, data-mining bot. Travel booking sites make use of these ads by promoting deals or displaying scenery from destinations someone was previously browsing. The beloved streaming site Netflix analyses your online behavioral patterns and preferences to become the service that “adapts to the individual’s taste,” creating the ultimate streaming experience.

Beware of the spooky stalkers but fear not! Some targeted techniques can become a blessing in disguise for the consumer, as they lead us toward products that likely better suit our lives.

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