4 Tips For Personalizing Ads Without Being Creepy

Personalization plays a huge role in improving campaign performance. But if marketers use the tactic incorrectly, they could destroy trust in their brand and leave a negative impression with users. When it comes to using personal data, there is a fine line between smartly customizing ads and creeping people out.

Abusing personal information is particularly easy to do on platforms that provide access to nuanced details, like Facebook. Google is taking steps to improve personalized ads with the launch of “My Activity” pages, which allows people to view the information Google has stored on them and opt-in to receive personalized ads based on that info.

Across the industry, data is improving, but data alone won’t completely help marketers. You still need storytelling skills and a bit of common sense. Make sure to follow these tips to make sure you aren’t rubbing people the wrong way.

Don’t Forget the Fundamentals

Sometimes, in the pursuit of personalization, marketers inadvertently stray from advertising fundamentals. Make sure every ad reflects a campaign’s purpose, your brand ideals, and the audience persona. Don’t prioritize personalization over telling a good, persuasive story.

Be Sensitive

The most accessible data can be the creepiest. For example, just because you have location data on users, doesn’t mean you should tell them you know where they live. Resist the temptation to regurgitate everything you know about the recipient. Address pain points and solutions rather than just stating the obvious.

A simple case in point: a café should advertise its refreshing frozen soft drink as opposed to highlighting the weather. Rest assured, Seattle already knows that “It sure is hot out there! Try a frozen drink at our cafe!”

Allude to Personalization

Social media advertisers have to balance the creepy and creative part of their job and not share too much about what they know. On these platforms, people share intimate details about their lives. Seeing those details thrown back at them by a brand that wasn’t a part of the conversation could make people feel their privacy was invaded.

Allude to your knowledge of people without outright stating what you know. By applying the data to a creative message rather than just using the data as your message, you’ll foster a little more trust.

Relevance vs. Resonance

As you personalize your ads, ask yourself, “Will this message have meaning to the person who sees it?” It is easy to use data to make creative ads relevant, but whether or not it will be impactful is another matter entirely.

Let’s say you’re a mobile phone company and you discover that soccer enthusiasts like your new product. That doesn’t necessarily mean your ads should feature soccer players. Make something that matters with that insight, and remember that some information might just inform your distribution strategy and won’t necessarily be mentioned in the creative.

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Honored in AdAge’s 40 Under 40 while still in his 20s, Victor Wong has been the guiding force of Thunder's vision and success since its founding in 2008. He served as the IAB Local Committee Co-Chairman in 2010 and coauthored the IAB Local Targeting Guide. Victor holds a BA in economics from Yale University and is a fellow of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.
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