An article in the Harvard Business review made an interesting observation following a series of studies: When a user knows that they are being shown a behaviourally targeted ad, they redefine their self-image based on what they see.
“We exposed students to an ad that they believed to be either behaviorally targeted or non-targeted for a high-end watch brand. Then we asked them to rate how sophisticated they perceived themselves to be. The data show that participants evaluated themselves as more sophisticated after receiving an ad that they thought was individually targeted to them, compared to when they thought the same ad was not targeted.”
For an ad to change a user’s self-perception, two elements must be present:
There’s great potential for opportunity here, but first let’s start with the ethical side. We’re talking about playing with people’s self-perception. Facebook triggered a public outcry after a controversial experiment where they modified the news feeds of a half a million people to see whether adding more negative emotional content would have an impact on users’ emotions and shares.
Social networks, search engines, advertisers and remarketing tools in general all need to be careful of the identity loop their algorithms might create. Think, for example, of the effect of dating site algorithms, which suggest potential mates “based on your profile.” Taken to the extreme, with an identity loop, we could end up letting an algorithm redefine the type of person we’re attracted to.
Based on these studies, creatives now have a new tool for creating campaigns that not only convey a message, but also shift the perceptions of certain users to make them more likely to identify with the message. Not a bad way to create ambassadors!
Of course, we’d still need to be able to both target an audience, AND explicitly tell them that they are seeing a targeted ad. Users are probably still a little wary of being reminded, “we’re tracking you, we know all about you.” Which makes it a risky operation, best used sparingly.
Philippe Giroux, Social Media Team Lead at Adviso, believes that this strategy will lead to other opportunities, particularly for retargeting.
According to him, from a creative standpoint, this new perspective is even more interesting when applied to retargeting. It would (finally!) allow us to distance ourselves from the performance aspect of the practice, and focus more on the human side. For advertisers, this would be a chance to remind users of the organization’s values, and link those values to the retargeted consumer in order to generate a purchase right at the end of the conversion funnel (as long as the ad is relevant, as mentioned). In an ideal situation, this would allow advertisers to reinforce the authenticity of the brand at a critical step in the customer journey.
Is this the end of “Free shipping,” “For a limited time only,” and all the rest? Probably not, but it’s definitely a breath of fresh air for our retargeting banner briefs, and a (potential) comfort to creative teams everywhere!