Personalization and intrusiveness of online advertising for people

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The challenge of online advertising personalization, ideally respecting privacy, but often more towards real intrusiveness


Corriere della Sera website from mobile

In the age of e-commerce and online advertising, ad personalization has become a key concept for attracting and retaining consumers. However, this practice is not without criticism, as it requires the use of personal information that could violate consumer privacy. We examine the trade-off between tailoring an ad to an individual consumer’s needs and soliciting the personal data necessary to do so, which is inherent in targeted online advertising.

The average online (and offline) user is exposed to several thousand ads every day. While the top three reasons for blocking ads include “Too many ads,” “Ads are annoying or irrelevant,” and “Ads are too intrusive” — the good news is that consumers don’t hate all ads:

  • 83% of people believe that not all advertising is negative
  • 57% of US online users prefer to filter ads rather than block them all

Therefore, it is crucial for marketers to distinguish between intrusive advertising and non-intrusive advertising.

What is intrusive advertising?

Intrusive advertising refers to subjecting users to widespread invasive, unwanted, and irrelevant ads. They appear unexpectedly, crash the host page, blink annoyingly, open new pages and windows, or play video and audio at inopportune times. Naturally, this upsets and distances users from the offering of the main brand, which hosts such advertising.

Some research has found that both desktop and mobile users find the following types of ads to be among the most intrusive:

Pop-up ads

Pop-up ads are the most annoying, with a disapproval rate of 73%.

81% of Internet users have closed a web page because of a popup, mostly because they don’t like being forced to close ads. In fact, 89% complain that pop-up ads that require you to click the “X” to remove are extremely frustrating.

Mobile ads

These come in second place to pop-ups, with 70% of users disliking them, probably because the small screen size increases their intrusiveness.

An example of intrusive advertising on mobile devices is interstitial ads which are full-screen interactive ads that cover the interface of the host app or site. While they usually appear at transition points or natural breaks between content (e.g. between game levels), their complete coverage is what makes them intrusive.

Prestitial video ads

In third place, with 57% disapproval, are loan video ads, which are online video ads that play before other video content loads. Other research even shows that this is the least popular form of advertising because it makes people feel forced to view your ad.

Auto-play video ads

eMarketer recently found that two-thirds of respondents found autoplay video ads with sound to be the most annoying type of online ad, followed by autoplay videos without sound at 55%.

Now let’s see how these types of intrusive ads differ from non-intrusive ads.

Intrusive advertising and non-intrusive advertising

Unlike intrusive ads, non-intrusive ads do not overtly interrupt a user’s online experience. They are passive and allow the consumer to turn to them instead of imposing on consumers. Therefore, there is no need to block them as they can be easily ignored.

While intrusive marketing bombards online users with irrelevant content, non-invasive marketing is well targeted. Therefore, while invasive ads can achieve greater reach and impressions, non-invasive ads are more personalized and therefore offer higher returns.

Another risk of intrusive advertising is that ads are often irrelevant to the site they are found on, failing to garner visitor interest. In contrast, non-invasive marketing is well thought out and ads are intelligently placed on sites to attract user attention.

Additionally, non-intrusive ads give people the freedom of choice: play the video, click the action button (CTA), or ignore it completely; whatever action they choose, they are more productive and efficient in their Internet browsing. Non-intrusive ads are not annoying, at least they are much less so than intrusive ads, improving the overall user experience; therefore, they are a better option for businesses that want to send their messages to consumers without interrupting their workflow or visual environment. It is an example of how user experience can be preserved while respecting companies’ interests and ultimately leads to a new paradigm in online advertising design.

Given the disadvantages of intrusive advertising and the low tolerance for ads that disturb the user experience, non-intrusive drives should be given top priority. Then consider a different approach, such as creating high-value, customer-centric marketing campaigns, creating educational, entertaining and professional ads, balancing the drive for greater brand awareness with providing an excellent impression.

How to avoid intrusive advertising

The following methods allow companies to demonstrate a great balance between increasing brand awareness and leaving a positive impression on users:

Paid Search Ads

When paid search advertising is done correctly (with intent-based keywords, etc.), it is inbound marketing and non-intrusive. The user asked for information first, rather than the brand intervening and interrupting the user experience. Paid search ads target specific search queries and reach high-intent people who were already looking for a solution like yours, not just people arbitrarily browsing the web.

The user can choose to click on the ad or continue searching, so as not to interrupt their experience. When the potential customer clicks on the ad, he is taken to a dedicated landing page where he can learn more about the offer. Not only do consumers have complete control over the ads they see and interact with, but also over whether the offer converts.

Display Ads

Marketing automation technologies (email marketing, web push notifications, etc.) allow you to collect audience insights to create hyper-targeted campaigns and deliver non-invasive display advertising experiences.

For example, social media ads use demographics and interests to target and attract people who have shown interest in the product or service and may have already established a connection with the brand. Retargeting is a strategy that aims to reach people who have already interacted with the website, viewed certain products or performed specific actions. It works by tracking user behavior on the website and, then, showing targeted ads to these users on other websites or advertising platforms.

However, retargeting is not the only way to increase relevance and reduce intrusiveness. Equally important are contextual ads on web pages based on the content of those pages (rather than the user’s past behavior). This type of advertising aims to offer relevant and relevant ads based on the specific context in which the user finds himself during his online browsing. For example, if a user is visiting a cooking site, they may be provided with ads promoting recipes, cooking tools, or related foods.

This approach is based on the premise that the content of a page provides clear indications of the user’s potential interests at that specific moment. By using contextual ads, companies can offer a better user experience by providing ads that integrate harmoniously with the content of the pages they are visiting. Furthermore, this form of advertising reduces intrusiveness, since it is not based on tracking the user’s past behavior, but rather on understanding their immediate needs and interests.

Native ads

Native ads represent an increasingly widespread advertising solution that integrates perfectly with the appearance and content of the platform on which they are displayed. Unlike other ad formats, Native ads present themselves as an integral part of the user’s browsing experience, offering a less invasive approach more in line with their interests. This type of adverts can be found on various open web platforms, among related content, thus ensuring greater visibility and interaction with the public. Native ads stand out for their ability to adapt to the environment in which they are inserted, maintaining a balance between advertising and content, and thus being more effective in reaching the target audience.

Email Ads

When consumers opt-in to a company’s digital newsletters and promotional emails, email ads are considered non-invasive. Users have given the brand permission to access the inbox, and consumers can still choose to read or ignore them. They also include the ability to completely unsubscribe, so the individual has full control.

Even without opting in or signing up, email ads can still be considered non-invasive if they are relevant to a user’s previous online behavior.

Avoid intrusive advertising to provide a better user experience

Avoiding intrusive advertising is essential to providing a better online user experience. Intrusive ads that open automatically or obstruct navigation can cause annoyance and frustration among users. Instead of aiming to reach as many people as possible without distinguishing between interested and non-interested users, it is more effective to balance brand promotion with the need to provide a positive perception of the brand.

Focusing on more targeted and user-relevant ads helps create a more enjoyable advertising experience, where ads are seen as helpful assets rather than unwanted interruptions. This approach promotes user involvement and increases the likelihood of success of the advertising campaign. At the same time, avoiding intrusive advertising reduces the risk that users will take extreme measures, such as blocking ads, which can jeopardize the economic sustainability of websites and digital services.

The effect of adaptation and discounting

Tests of adapting the ad to the needs of each consumer, also presenting a discount, to investigate whether feelings of intrusiveness mitigate the potential positive effects of adaptation and discount, show that higher levels of personalization, such as adding personal identification or transaction information to browsing data, increase the feeling of intrusiveness and negatively influence purchasing intentions. These negative effects are not offset by offering discounts, but can be partly mitigated by presenting an ad that perfectly fits consumers’ current needs.

The positive effect of ad personalization is, however, weakened at higher levels of invasiveness. Furthermore, high fit can lead not only to higher purchase intentions, but also to higher levels of perceived intrusiveness. Presenting a personalized ad to the consumer can therefore be a double-edged sword, leading to greater or, conversely, lesser purchasing intentions.

Intrusiveness and personalization

Scenario-based studies in different sectors confirm what has been expressed, namely that the use of personal information with more distinctive character, such as in ads that use information on browsing history or personal identification, increases the feeling of intrusiveness and negatively influences intentions of purchase.

As technology and data analytics continue to advance, it is critical for organizations to find a balance between personalization and respect for privacy, while ensuring transparency in data practices and providing consumers with control over their personal information. Providing users with the ability to opt-out or opt-in to personalized ads and promoting practices that minimize the collection of sensitive data can help address privacy concerns and maintain positive relationships with consumers.

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22 December 2023 Giulia Zucchiatti

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TAG: UX and UI digital marketing