Should people fear behavioural ads?

In the same week that the Advertising Standards Authority extended its remit by introducing new rules governing online behavioural advertising, the analysis company Ovum suggested that consumers would be quick to opt out of internet tracking. In what it described as a "threatening scenario" for the online economy, Ovum’s survey found that 68 per cent of internet users would select a "do not track" feature if it was easily accessible. Ovum claimed this hardening of consumer attitudes, coupled with tightening regulation, could have a major impact on targeted advertising.

The ASA’s tighter control over OBA requires ad networks delivering behaviourally targeted ads to make clear they are doing so – most likely through an icon in the corner of online ads. Networks must also provide an opt-out tool that gives consumers control over receiving targeted ads. For those concerned about transparency and control of OBA, the ASA promises it will take action on their behalf, and ISBA was also quick to back the changes. But is the industry in danger of accelerating Ovum’s bleak predictions – and should consumers worry about OBA?

Social media head

Claire Adams, head of social media, Havas Worldwide London

"Behavioural advertising has been an unknown territory for consumers, with reports that they often feel stalked by brands who know their every move around the web. These views have often fallen on deaf ears to an industry led by direct response rates and a knowledge that consumers engage better with behaviourally targeted ads. The new rules are bringing in greater transparency and putting the control into consumers’ hands. This is good news for consumers but should also be welcomed by advertisers. Content needs to not only stand out in terms of creativity but be relevant and engaging to earn the right for consumers to interact."

Chief executive

Debbie Klein, chief executive, Engine UK

"Recently, privacy scaremongers have become more vocal and it’s time for the industry to get on the front foot to say what’s good about behavioural targeting – namely, relevance and personalisation. If brands continue to be useful, entertaining and transparent, then consumers have no reason to be concerned – the majority of users accept they are going to have to see advertising online, so why wouldn’t they want their internet experience to be more relevant to them? The big challenges will come when brands and platforms get things wrong as they evolve in a more data-driven world."


Glyn Britton, managing partner, strategy and innovation, Albion

"Any good mainstream brands should already be taking responsibility for this themselves, ensuring that their online behavioural advertising doesn’t feel freaky or haranguing. Sadly, some brands with less clued-in clients and bonus-chasing media agencies may have been overstepping the mark. So the reputation damage has already been done to an ad technology that, if used right, can be useful to users rather than annoying. It’s a pity the new rules don’t include mobile advertising. It would have been nice to see the Advertising Standards Authority getting ahead of the market and making sure that mobile ads don’t get schlocky in the first place."


Lucy Jameson, chief strategy officer, Grey London

"Consumers fear online behavioural advertising when they feel they have no control over it, or when they do not fully understand who is doing what and why. Constantly being targeted as a result of having viewed a brand/product online also raises the question of what else is happening behind closed doors. I’d welcome increased transparency and the opportunity to explain to consumers what I am trying to achieve as an advertiser. In giving them control, consumers are put in a position where they can make an informed decision as to accept online behavioural advertising or not – and will go a long way to removing the ‘snooping’ stigma."