Consumers Prefer Targeted Advertising, If Only to Support Free Content

4 minute read
Marisa Peacock avatar

Which do you prefer -- online ads for random products and services or ads directed towards your interests? If you’re anything like those surveyed by Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), you favor targeted advertising. While targeted ads may win over consumers, it’s not for the reasons you may think.

There’s No Such Thing as Free Content

One thousand U.S. adults were surveyed the first week of April and a majority of them agreed that free content like news, weather, email, blogs and videos was extremely important to the overall value of the Internet. As such, 75.4% said they’d rather have free ad-supported content than pay for ad-free content.

If you’re in targeted advertising, this seems like a good thing, especially when you consider that 58.5% say that an Internet ad has helped them find an offer or product that they wouldn’t otherwise have known about. However, here’s where it gets tricky. 46.3% said that they have never purchased a product or service because they saw or clicked on an online advertisement. Only 42.1% said that they had, while another 11% remained unsure. To confuse things even more, 50.2% indicated that an online advertisement has helped save money on a purchase or saved time in finding it.


So what gives? In what scenario are consumers more likely not to purchase something as a result of seeing an online ad, but are more likely to have saved time and money just by seeing it? It’s a paradox, no?

Yes, No and Maybe

The survey also sought to uncover consumers’ opinions about online privacy, government involvement in regulating targeted advertising online and ultimately what they want from the internet.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said that they don’t trust the government to regulate how Internet advertising is delivered. Additionally, their three biggest concerns about internet include identity theft, viruses and malware, and government surveillance of data. Overwhelming, consumers (75.3%) think that they should be in charge of making choices about what sorts of ads they see and how they are generated, while only 4% think that the government should.

Yet, when it comes to whether or not they’d support a law that restricted how data is used for Internet advertising, but also potentially reduced the  availability of free content like blogs and video sites online, consumers send mixed signals. Only 22% say they’d support it, while 47.3% say they wouldn’t, and 30.5% say they are unsure.


Learning Opportunities

Furthermore, it was clear that consumers don''t necessarily understand the ramifications that such restrictions may bring. When asked "If a major Internet browser makes it harder for companies to display advertising to users, what do you think will be the impact on your user experience?" -- 41% said they will have access to less free content, 27.8% said it would have no effect, and 22.4% said they were unsure. Only 8% thought they'd have access to more free content.

What We Have if a Failure to Communicate

While these survey results are not directly related to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, known as CISPA, which was passed by the House of Representatives last week, it does speak to how consumers generally feel about getting the government involved in online activities. Perhaps most significantly, it speaks for a need for more education and awareness.

It’s a confusing message at best. On one hand they want free content enough that they’ll tolerate targeted advertising but won’t engage directly with it. On the other hand, while they want control over what types of ads they see, they don’t seem to fully understand the impact that various legislation and browser restrictions can have on their online lives.

What this means for the future of targeted advertising or display advertising isn't clear, but those on either side of the debate may want to start campaigns focused on educating consumers about the outcomes that proposed solutions could bring.


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