News UK’s commercial director: ‘Brands need to understand the line between personalisation and digital stalking’


Most brands want to jump on the personalisation bandwagon by finding new and deeper ways of connecting with consumers. But while technology gives brands the ability to target users one-to-one, it is very easy to go too far and get it all wrong, according to Ben Walmsley, commercial director at News UK.

“It's about understanding the dividing line between personalisation and digital stalking. Retargeting has developed a bad name because people used it badly, chasing people too aggressively and too often,” Walmsley explained to The Drum.

Walmsley heads up the commercial digital advertising strategy for the Times, the Sunday times and the Sun. He said that editorially, News UK takes an “incredibly careful” approach when it comes to personalisation.

“Our aim is to help our readers be well informed about the whole world, not just the bits that they think they're interested in,” he said.

Walmsley added that it is important to develop an authentic relationship with readers by making a real effort to find out about their personal likes and dislikes.

“Our marketing personalisation is driven by the same ethos. We target advertising based on a deep understanding and data relationship with our readers - not just based on what stories or ads that they click but on a more holistic reading of who they are and what they like. That way we can present them with a range of advertising and marketing treatments that speak to them on a broader level than just that last web page they looked at.”

His comments come at a time when brands and publishers are increasingly stepping up their personalisation efforts. Yahoo examines a user’s personal interests and personalises the experience according to which country the user is based in. Music streaming service Spotify recently acquired British audio recognition company Sonalytic to improve Spotify’s personalised playlists.

Going forward, Walmsley says it is important for brands to go back to basics by establishing common etiquette that tends to get forgotten amidst the rush to leverage technology.

“Good personalisation requires interoperable systems with compatible, symmetrical data. Real-world communication etiquette has been ignored in the digital world, often as a result of technical challenges, and that alienates consumers,” he concluded.

Walmsley will be speaking at The Drum’s panel session with Appboy: Let's get Personal: Creating Experiences Customers Love at The Drum Arms on 22 March.

You can register for the event here.

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