Annenberg Study: Consumers Cool to Behavioral Marketing

The majority of Americans do not want targeted behavioral marketing, online or off, according to a study released Wednesday by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the Berkley Center for Law & Technology.

According to the study, 66% of adults said they did not want web sites, ad networks or offline retailers targeting ads to them. Even a majority (54%) of younger consumers (18-24) "rejected" behavioral advertising, according to the researchers.

In addition, 92% of the respondents said there should be a law should be a law requiring websites and advertising companies to delete stored information if asked to, and 63% say their Internet activity should be deleted whether they requested it or not.

The study comes as Congress is working on a bill to regulate behavioral advertising and data collection and the Federal Trade Commission is looking into the issue as well. Marketers argue that targeting marketing allows them to deliver ads more relevant to individual consumers. They have also adopted a voluntary code of standards on behavioral marketing.

The landline/cell phone poll was conducted June 18-July 2 by Princeton Survey Research Associates of 1,000 adult Internet users in the U.S. the margin for error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.6%

It was funded by the Rose Foundation and the Annenberg School for Communications.

"We will need to examine the study carefully to assure that it is likely to accurately reflect consumer views," said Dan Jaffee, executive V.P. of government relations, for the Association of National Advertisers. "More importantly, consumer behavior in the marketplace does not seem to reflect the findings of the study. A number of web browsers now provide the ability for consumers to block web tracking for marketing purposes, and there certainly has not been a large scale utilization of these opportunities, which would have been expected if this survey is accurate. Behavior rather than surveys is the most likely sign of the intensity and real views of the public. Most importantly, the advertising community is working intensively to develop self-regulatory systems that will assure that consumers will be able, what ever their views, to control whether they are tracked for marketing purposes or not. Advertisers are committed to providing this effective notice and choice. Also, we hope to carry out extensive educational programs to clarify to consumers the realities of interest based advertising, which will serve to overcome numerous misapprehensions about these practices." 

"I believe the proof will be in the day-to-day practice, rather than in a response to a study," said Adonis Hoffman, senior VP and counsel of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "If asked the question whether we want to be tracked online, most of us likely would say no. But When 30 year old males start receiving ads for cosmetics in real life, they might have a different reaction, as will 25-34 year females who could receive ads for tools and heavy machinery should interest-based advertising go away. Keep in mind that marketers want their messages delivered to the customer most likely to buy--that is both economically efficient and completely sustainable in a consumer-driven, competitive marketplace." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.