Americans turned off by targeted political ads

Americans hate tailored political advertising – so much so that it’s likely to put them off politicians they already support.

As elections approach, many political campaigners are using the technique. They buy information about individuals’ online activities, and then send them different political messages accordingly.

But, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, this may be counter-productive.

In a survey, 86 percent of Americans say they don’t want ‘political advertising tailored to your interests’ – far more than the proportion objecting to other tailored ads. Only 61 percent dislike tailored ads for products and services, 56 percent dislike tailored news and 46 percent dislike tailored discounts.

“This election year marks a watershed moment for online advertising. In unprecedented ways, and to an unprecedented extent, campaign organizations across the American political spectrum are using hundreds of pieces of information about individuals’ online and offline lives to ensure the ‘right’ people are being targeted with the ‘right’ messages,” says professor Joseph Turow.

“Yet, we found that contrary to what marketers claim, the vast majority of adult Americans do not want political campaigns to tailor advertisements to their interests.”

Nearly two thirds of survey respondents said they’d actually be less likely to vote for a candidate they already supported if they found out that the candidate’s campaign organization was engaging in the practice.

The figure was even higher – 70 percent – when it came to tailoring Facebook ads. Some campaigners are using the social network to send ads to the friends of a person who ‘likes’ the candidate’s Facebook page. The ads contain someone’s profile photo and proclaim they support the candidate.

The results also show a high level of ignorance about the extent of ad targeting. For example, 85 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “If I found out that Facebook was sending me ads for political candidates based on my profile information that I had set to private, I would be angry.”

Here’s news for them: it does.