Research

James Swift

6 April 2021

Strategist’s Digest: Are personalised ads relevant or intrusive? 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

How and When Personalised Advertising Leads to Brand Attitude, Click, and WOM Intention 

By Freya De Keyzer, Nathalie Dens & Patrick De Pelsmacker

Give it to me in one sentence.

People care more about the increased relevance of personalised ads on social media than their intrusiveness.

Give me a little more detail.

The researchers conducted two experiments to test how people responded to personalised social media ads. In both studies, the researchers showed participants ads with varying degrees of personalisation from fictional brands (a travel agency and a watch) on a mocked-up Facebook feed, and then asked them answers questions about the brands and the ads.

The results showed that ads perceived to be more personalised were seen as more relevant, which was in turn linked to more positive brand attitudes and a greater propensity to click the ad.

Personalisation, it was shown, increases self-brand connection (how strongly people feel a brand mirrors their own self image) and decreases reactance (a negative psychological response to an unwelcome ad that interferes with what a person is doing).

But the researchers were surprised to see that ads described as more personalised were less likely to be perceived as intrusive.

What’s more, people didn’t punish brands even when they felt the personalised ads were intrusive. In fact, brand attitudes and click intent both increased in step with perceptions of intrusiveness. Similarly, reactance was not linked to declines in brand attitude, click intention and word-of-mouth intention.

‘Our findings indicate that the indirect effect on brand outcomes through perceived personal relevance is stronger than the indirect effect through perceived intrusiveness,’ write the researchers.

Why is this interesting?

There are lots of interesting nuggets within the paper (the researchers test 12 hypotheses in total), but the headline is that brands shouldn’t worry about intrusive personalised ads.

‘While consumers may not like being tracked online, they often appreciate the benefits of online targeted advertising,’ the researchers surmise. ‘As a result, they will not be inclined to react negatively to the brand.’

The researchers also think the surprising results could be explained by the schema congruity theory: essentially that personalised ads are easier to process because they align with people’s self-image, which makes them less jarring and annoying.

Any weaknesses?

It was a lab experiment that relied on overt personalisation, meaning that people gave information about themselves and then saw that information presented back to them in an ad, which isn’t exactly how social media advertising works in the wild. It’s also possible that the results only apply to Facebook.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, but it’s behind a paywall.

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