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Guide Data & Privacy Geolocation

From customized to creepy: how to get personalized ads right

By Elise Stieferman, Director of marketing and business strategy



The Drum Network article

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February 23, 2023 | 7 min read

We’ve all been victims of cringe targeted ads. Elise Stieferman of Coegi advises how marketers can avoid verging on creepy with three simple steps.

Taco sign

No one needs to be notified every time there’s a fast food chain nearby, says Coegi’s Elise Stieferman. / Nick Dunlap

Personalization has been the gold standard for data-driven digital marketing for many years. But the role of personalization is changing as consumer expectations shift and technologies evolve. Personalization is no longer a value-add, but rather a need-to-have.

Failing to tailor your advertising to your highest-value customers will result in a lack of engagement and handing over the opportunity to convert to your competition. The role of personalization in 2023 is not isolated to unique messaging by interest or demographic.

It also requires careful consideration of channel, context, and timing. However, being personalized requires an element of restraint and nuance that is sometimes a difficult balance to strike without careful research and reflection on your marketing strategy.

Some methods of personalization are more impactful than others – and the best rule of thumb is to remember to treat your audiences as you would like to be treated. Losing sight of this golden rule can turn your ads from customized to creepy. So, here are three steps for staying on the right side of personalization.

1. Compliantly collect first-party data

Today’s world of marketing should have a zero-tolerance policy for unethical handling of individuals’ data. At a minimum, marketing professionals must be transparent with the collection of consumers’ data. Explain how it will be leveraged and articulate the value consumers will receive.

Then live up to that value and deliver a great brand experience that goes beyond a one-time discount. Trust me. Offering a unique code for 10% off a single purchase will not justify the thousands of texts and emails that will be received in the coming months or years.

There should also be careful consideration of when and where to apply first-party, location-based targeting. Through iOS14, advertisers can reach users based on location and cross-app or browser behavior. However, just because users have opted-in to app tracking, does not mean they want to have a push notification served to them indicating Chipotle is 1.2498 miles away (even if they really love Chipotle).

This level of messaging precision makes users feel like they are constantly being watched, Big Brother style. This actually might compel them to change their settings to avoid any invasion of privacy. Just look at the current lawsuit with Kochava and you can see how the standards of tracking are changing.

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2. Apply best practices for media activation

Ever feel like you’re seeing the same ads everywhere? It’s annoying, certainly, but also borderline creepy. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being digitally or physically followed. By far the worst offender of this? Retargeting.

While omnichannel media buying is considered best practice, it is important to set smart frequency caps to avoid oversaturating individuals and making them feel overwhelmed by your brand. Failing to put these brand safety measures in place will certainly erode brand trust while also wasting your investment.

The best way to overcome this is by pairing frequency with your data and content strategy to ensure relevancy at each stage of the journey. Try sequential messaging based on the number of ad exposures. Identify a niche interest within your broader audience, and create content that aligns with that interest to draw them in. In other words, lean into pull messaging rather than constantly pushing your agenda.

3. Focus on the human behind the target

I’m sure we’ve all been served those cringe ads that have your first or last name mocked up on a t-shirt design. Or even worse, think back to moments where business intelligence took personalization a little too far (looking at you, Target, during the 2012 fiasco where a father found out his teenage daughter was pregnant because of an oddly specific mailer based on purchasing behaviors).

At the end of the day, there is a human behind the ‘user’ or ‘purchaser’ that must be considered in each marketing decision. So, approach personalization with the human first – being respectful, sensitive and in tune with their wants and needs. This will ultimately better serve both your consumer and your brand, and will carve a path for stronger long-term opportunities.

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Coegi is an independent digital agency providing services across digital strategy, media buying, paid social, search and influencer campaigns. We bring together...

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