If you think online advertising is the key to keeping your site afloat, then heed this warning: According to the 2012 Digital Advertising Attitudes Report, 20% of US consumers would stop using a company’s products or services entirely as a result of receiving too many advertising messages, while 28% would be less likely to respond positively to that company in the future. What qualifies as “too many” is not entirely clear, but the report highlights a few best practices to help you retain customers without annoying them.

Too Much Advertising 

The report, completed by YouGov and commissioned by Upstream, surveyed 2,054 UK adults aged 18+ in the UK and 2,105 in the USA on a range of digital advertising issues. Overall they found that more than one in four (27%) British and one in five (20%) American online consumers said they would stop using a product or service -- such as a social networking site -- if they were subjected to too much advertising.

So what is too much advertising? It depends on the demographic. A majority of US consumers (55%) said they didn’t want to be targeted more than once a month, while 18-24 year olds were fine with being targeted as frequently as once a week or more (31%). It seems to come to down to personal preference as well. Most US respondents were happy to receive marketing and advertising across devices, including PC, mobile, tablet or MP3 player. Marketing that was tailored based on their personal interests or was contextually or locationally relevant was appreciated, as well.

A Fine Line Between Too Much, Just Enough

So what gives? Like anything, it’s about striking the right balance. Improving the customer experience means actually getting to know your customer -- who they are, what they like and where they are -- so you can provide them with information that’s relevant to them. However, it’s a fine line.

Marketers need to ensure that the frequency of advertising exposure is right for the person in question, and that the phrasing of any marketing messages is proven to elicit a positive response. Thanks to a slew of social media and community management tools, it’s not hard to do, but it requires a significant investment on engagement.

Furthermore, marketers are cautioned about advertising anywhere just because they can. The vast majority of all respondents indicated that they would find it most unacceptable to receive unwanted advertising on their mobile phone/smartphone over other electronic devices.

All of this puts advertisers between a rock and hard place. Experimentation is key to finding what works and what doesn’t, but consumers have made it clear that when it doesn’t work, they are less likely to want to engage with that brand. It signals a need for strategic engagement, as well as a certain level of transparency that could benefit brands by being upfront and honest about how they intend to engage with their customers online.