Privacy vs. Personalization: The Problem With Targeted Ads

Katie Wight | July 13, 2023

Targeted ads: It’s a simple enough strategy in theory, but there are some layers to this onion that brands don’t often peel back.

As marketers, we want our ads to be effective. We want to reach more people. But too often, we’re using ad strategies that aren’t aligned with our brand, its overall goals, or our marketing strategy.

Ads are siloed and viewed in very black-and-white terms: We’ve reached X number of people and Y number have converted. But we’re not thinking about the people who didn’t convert or the leads we’ve actually lost as a result of our ad campaigns.

Because let’s face it: Ads can be incredibly intrusive and obnoxious if they’re not set up properly (or with strategy in mind).

We’ve all gotten ads that seem to have no frequency cap — and that seem to be meant for someone who definitely isn’t you.

Our audiences experience the same thing. If we’re not careful, our ads can become an intrusion rather than a positive touchpoint.

Instead of thinking about how we can get the best results (aka lowest cost per conversion) for our ads, we have to think about how to target ads in a way that doesn’t feel like an invasion of privacy — one that shoots our brand in the proverbial foot.

Instead of “How can we increase conversions with ads?” the question should be, “How can we make targeted ads mutually beneficial?” One could even argue that we need to talk about the ethicality of targeted ads.

It’s not a light topic but it is important. And we have some best practices that we think can help, so let’s get started.

The real dilemma: Privacy

Discrimination in targeted advertising

Data breaches in targeted advertising

Don’t get us wrong: Ad targeting can be positive

Want to start using ads? Want to ensure you’re using them as an extension of your brand — and not a potential risk to it? There are several best practices for an ethical ads strategy in 2023.
Protect people’s information and comply with the law. Implement tools to help avoid security breaches and vet those tools before using them.

This also means working with ad agencies and contractors who understand and abide by those same standards.
The days of bro marketer “in your face” ad strategies are dead in the water. Understand your audience enough to know their preferences for ad frequency and types of ads they want to consume.

If you’re getting a lot of “unimpressed” or annoyed comments, or your ads are getting flagged as spam, it’s time to revisit your copy, your creative, and your targeting.

Beyond ads, also consider other ways to limit intrusion.

For example, if someone opts into your list from an ad and changes their mind, don't give them the runaround on unsubscribing. If they want to unsubscribe, let them.