Are your digital ads engaging or intrusive? It depends who you’re targeting

  • 21-05-2018

Digital ad spend continues to rise, and is forecast to top $203bn in 2018 (GroupM, 2017). Yet despite continuing growth, many senior marketers from the most valuable global brands lack confidence in digital advertising’s ability to truly deliver against its great promise: to create seamless, personalised experiences online, in the crucial moments that matter between people and brands.

And perhaps this lack of confidence is justified: most people feel they are being bombarded with increasingly intrusive messages. And while that criticism is aimed at advertising as a whole, the consensus is that poorly executed digital advertising is driving the trend.

How can marketers ensure that their campaigns cut through across an ever-expanding choice of channels, without alienating people along the way?

A new approach to targeting

This article combines expertise from Kantar TNS and Kantar Millward Brown to better understand how people’s online behaviour affects their attitude towards advertising. The results are enlightening: they demonstrate how a person’s level of connectedness and activity online significantly affects how they respond to advertising – and therefore how (and how often) brands should target them.

Are brands telling better stories? Activity matters

As one would expect, the more active a person is online, the more ads they’re exposed to. They are also more likely to recognise and appreciate the better storytelling that is enabled by new ad formats and better integrated multimedia campaigns. This group, who see the most ads, are twice as likely to say that their opinion of brands is improved by multimedia campaigns. In contrast, people that are less active online are almost twice as likely to find multimedia campaigns irritating and overwhelming.

The digital challenge and opportunity

While poorly executed digital strategies have no doubt contributed to some negative opinions, brands shouldn’t suddenly reverse their digital investment plans. On average, digital advertising provides a more cost-effective way to build brands than traditional media– it just needs to be applied in a more thoughtful way. Marketers need to refine their understanding of their audience, tailoring their targeting more precisely to people’s preferences.

A driver of success: levels of social and digital engagement

Understanding your audience’s level of online engagement will tell you not just how much advertising they see on average, but more importantly where they are likely to see it, what they expect from campaigns, and how they are likely to respond.

For example, people who are the least active online tend to visit digital and social media channels only when they perceive there is a tangible advantage; they are the slowest to adopt new trends, and are likely to be found watching broadcast TV. In contrast, the most active users will be online researching and buying their next pair of trainers.

This polarisation is set to continue. The more mature the market and choice of media, the more distinct and diverse people’s digital behaviour becomes, making these differences increasingly important to consider.

Taking advantage of these insights

There are three simple ways marketers can start to build these insights into their strategies.

1. Integrate for everyone: integrated campaigns are 31% more effective at building brands, yet our research found that one in four campaigns are not well integrated. Align your content seamlessly across each platform and format to ensure each piece tells part of the same coherent story. Many campaign cues are similarly effective across audience groups. Everyone expects multichannel campaigns to deliver basic connective elements or hygiene factors like the same logo, slogan, message and story.

However, the most active online users are more demanding, also expecting campaigns to include consistent, and appealing characters or personalities. The most notable differences are that they also like consistent use of website addresses and social media hashtags. So, these digital integration techniques can help improve impact... but you shouldn’t rely on these exclusively if your target audience is more diverse.

Multiple integration cues improve campaign cohesion… A recent Budweiser campaign in China used multiple consistent elements (celebrity, colour scheme, bottle, logo, slogan) across TV, online and outdoor executions. In a well-executed example of ‘matching luggage’, extending throughout the style and mood of the content, the adverts consistently featured Eason Chan, a popular singer and actor, to position Budweiser as young, passionate and future forward. While the style of the campaign would likely appeal most to progressive consumers, the campaign integration was clear for all kinds of people.

2. Be selective: brands need to define a clear role for online media by identifying and targeting people in the moments that matter, bearing in mind that acceptable frequency will vary according to how different people use social and digital media.

For example, people less active online are twice as likely to say they feel that brands won’t leave them alone, than the more receptive, more active users. So more precise targeting becomes increasingly important.

Great campaigns have a specific reason for placing each creative execution in each channel. Advertisers will only achieve strong creative across multiple placements if they understand that attitudes to ads vary by channel and format, and different media have different inherent strengths, at different times.

The recent campaign for Adidas Originals in the US was seen by consumers as 'dark and edgy'; 'primarily for young people', ‘trying to fit in with new social movements', and 'hardcore'. This added up to a campaign which people felt was far better placed online than on TV. The campaign worked well for its target audience of highly active online users, but would not have resonated as well for a brand targeting less active online users.

3. Customise appropriately: your less active audiences are primarily concerned with wanting online videos to be short and to cut to the chase. In contrast, those who are most active online tend to see the value in more sophisticated customisation, which goes beyond simply shortening or re-editing a TV ad.

For example, the most active users are more than twice as likely to feel that online video should feature different and “more online relevant” characters; be edgier or riskier; or include additional features such as a “making of”.

The sophistication of your target audience therefore dictates the amount and type of customisation you should invest in.

Opel’s ‘Handbag’ campaign launched the new Crossland X vehicle in Germany. The successful TV ad worked even better when it was customised for Facebook viewing: enhanced branding resulted in stronger relevance and affinity.

The ad editing brought out key features and was visually engaging, resonating with the more active online users, and positioning the brand as innovative. The ad also successfully retained a sense of continuity, avoiding being confusing for the less sophisticated online users.

To conclude…

To deliver on digital’s promise of creating seamless and personalised experiences online, marketers must take a more calculated approach to the integration, customisation, and placement of their content. This means tailoring campaigns to the particular preferences of their target audience, based on an understanding of their level of online activity and engagement. In this increasingly connected world, identifying the moments when people are receptive to your content will be key to getting ahead.


Research Department