Online Display Advertising: Targeting and Obtrusiveness


We all have been in situations where you are browsing the internet and the advertising is targeted on the content on the website and they are shown to you. Hereby, advertising is targeted. And what is maybe even more intrusive, that the advertising pops up. It definitely gets your attention. However, are you more willing to click on the advertising and buy the product? This is what Goldfarb & Tucker (2011) researched. They study the effect of targeted display advertising and obtrusiveness on sales, and what the effect is when these two are combined.

This question is interesting. Because even with all these new techniques, display advertising success drops. People avoid online display advertising because they infer them in their browsing goals (Drèze & Hussherr 2003). Do obtrusive advertising works exactly in the opposite way and affects the effectiveness of advertising negatively?

To find out, this study uses data from a large randomized field experiment on 2,892 web advertising campaigns. For every campaign on average 852 surveys were distributed. Where the half of them were to consumers who have seen the advertising and the other half were on the website without the advertisement on it.

The main results of this study are that targeting the advertising improves the effectiveness of online display advertising and obtrusiveness does also. However, when these two techniques are combined the effectiveness decreases. This is because privacy concerns temper the appreciation of formativeness in targeted advertising. So, for advertising in categories where privacy matters more, the effect is tempered more than in categories where privacy matters less.

The strength of this paper is the fact that it, in contrast to earlier research, propose that obtrusive advertising is not very effective in the contextually targeted situations. Earlier research study the effect of the obtrusiveness on advertising recall, which is of course positive. By adding the privacy concerns and the feelings of manipulation to the fact that advertising can be perceived as useful makes advertising perceived as intrusive, and therefore result the effectiveness negatively.

This paper shows a reason for the unexpected success of search advertising, where the advertising is highly targeted on the context (the advertising is based on search keywords) but is absolutely not obtrusive or attractive. For managers, this means that in choosing the right way to advertise they must not only consider whether to target their audience with contextually targeted advertising, but also consider the negative influence if these advertisements are obtrusive. Economically, 5.3 percent of advertising spending could be cut, without affecting the effectiveness of advertising. This, solely because the wrong combination of advertising content and format is used.

In short terms, either choose to reach your audience with targeted advertising, or with obtrusive advertising. But don’t combine the two.

Drèze, X. & Hussherr, F.X., 2003. Internet advertising: Is anybody watching? Journal of Interactive Marketing, 17(4), pp.8–23.

Goldfarb, A. & Tucker, C., 2011. Online Display Advertising: Targeting and Obtrusiveness. Marketing Science, 30(3), pp.389–404.

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