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‘Tailored advertising’ or ‘retargeting’ allows businesses to target advertising at people who visited their site but didn’t buy anything. These type of ads are becoming more and more common, as Tory MP Gavin Barwell discovered the hard way when he sarcastically tweeted “I know Labour are short of cash but having an invitation to “date Arab girls” at top of your press release?”. Facebook and Google already offer tailored advertising and Twitter announced this month that it will soon be trialling ‘promoted tweets’. These are ads displaying content from brands and businesses in which a user has already shown interest.
Twitter plans to use even more sophisticated technology. Instead of just doing the above, it will allow advertisers to upload a list of customers and potential customers on to the Twitter advert platform and then target ads at people who are both on the advertiser’s target list and also Twitter users. As Kevin Weil (Twitter’s Senior Director of Product, Revenue) put it in his blog “Users won’t see more ads on Twitter, but they may see better ones”.
The issues here are both privacy and anonymised online tracking. Do users want their online habits tracked? Do they even know what information about them is being collected?
The US already has a non-profit organisation led by the top advertising and marketing trade associations, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which enables internet users to opt out of this sort of advertising through the DAA’s Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioural Advertising. By filling out the DAA’s opt out page, users can opt out from receiving interest-based advertising from the scheme’s participating companies. The Senate Commerce Committee is also currently considering universal “Do Not Track” legislation that could have far-reaching implications for interest-based advertising.
The reality, however, if you do not accept a website’s cookies, is that the website’s functionality will often decrease. This is a disincentive to opting out. There is also widespread ignorance among internet users about the amount and type of information collected about them online. Many are unaware of organisations like the DAA in the US or just automatically click ‘ok’ to the cookie opt-in when they visit a new website in the UK.
While national debate on this subject has a long way to go, money talks and targeted advertising can improve an advertiser’s return substantially as ads are targeted at users who are already inclined to buy. For Twitter, Facebook or Google, a targeted ad on which more users click means more advertising revenue.
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