Can Consumers Learn to Love Behavioral Targeting? [Statistics]

eMarketer asserts: Public opinion remains heavily against tailored ads

A whopping two-thirds of internet users don’t believe advertisers should be allowed to target online ads to their interests based on the sites they have visited, according to a survey by USA Today and Gallup.

Respondents were only slightly more sympathetic when asked whether free access to content made targeting worth it; 61% disagreed while 35% thought the practice was OK. Younger and wealthier internet users were less likely to be against behaviorally targeted advertising, but even among those groups only a minority tolerated the practice.

US Internet Users

Respondents were more amenable to allowing behavioral targeting from select advertisers. The youngest respondents, ages 18 to 34, were most likely to say they would be willing to allow targeting from chosen advertisers, at 57%. The most affluent users fell behind, however, and those making between $30,000 and $75,000 were more apt to say yes.

US Internet Users Who Would Allow Advertising Networks to Target Ads to Them, by Age, Dec 2010 (% of respondents)

The Gallup survey is hardly the first poll to show widespread antipathy toward behavioral targeting. While many marketers, led by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), still hope for the success of self-regulation, public opinion has encouraged involvement from legislative and regulatory officials. And research suggests that education about behavioral targeting—which marketers hope will assuage the concerns of web users—may actually create worse feelings.

A May 2010 study from online a preference management provider PreferenceCentral found that web users’ willingness to trade off free content for targeted ads dropped by 15 percentage points after survey respondents received information about what behavioral targeting is and how it works.

The fact that over time, as behavioral targeting has featured prominently in the news, Americans continue to regard it as invasive, creepy or otherwise undesirable further suggests that educational efforts may not be enough.

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