Marketing comprehension improves customer trust and engagement

Katie Sadler

Online advertising “can be alarming if consumers don't understand the mechanism driving it”

Comprehension of digital marketing technologies affects trust of online targeted content and browser cookies, study finds.

A study of 2,000 regular internet users has found that 56 per cent of those who have an understanding of online marketing techniques are ‘comfortable’ with seeing adverts based on their previous browsing behaviour. In contrast, 17 per cent of users who don’t know how cookies work find the specific nature of retargeting adverts ‘alarming’.

Retargeting is achieved using cookie-based technology. Every time a consumer visits a site and accepts the cookie policy, an unnoticeable piece of code drops a browser cookie. When the consumer returns to browse the internet, the cookie lets the chosen retargeting provider know when to serve the advert, helping to recapture interest and bring the consumer back.

Commenting on the findings, Cary Cooper, psychologist and specialist in organisational behaviour, said: “When an individual is directly targeted with content specifically because they've just encountered it, for example an advert for a pair of shoes that appears to follow them around the Internet, it can be alarming if they don't understand the mechanism driving it.”

The research findings suggest users with a moderate or high comprehension of how cookies work are almost three times more likely to click on a retargeted advert than those with low or no comprehension.

“Many will wrongly, but understandably, believe that they're being targeted by nefarious means, rather than simply because a website dropped a cookie on their browser. That will make them suspicious.

“Even though users now actively consent to browser cookies use, they only become alarmed when the cookie is used to present them with relevant content likely to be of interest. We could call this the cookie paradox,” added Cooper.

Comprehension was greatest among 18-24 year olds with 54 per cent demonstrating strong knowledge of how browser cookies work. In general, over-55s showed the least comprehension. However, a quarter could demonstrate high or moderate comprehension.

Simon Leeming, co-founder of Digital Media Stream, the report publisher, calls for industry openness: “As the research suggests, distrust can arise from consumers simply not understanding why they are seeing a certain piece of content. Or worse, thinking they understand what’s going on when they don’t. For example, if you have no understanding of the mechanics behind why you’re seeing a certain advert, it can be quite alarming to see a retargeted advert.

“I think as an industry, we have a responsibility to be as open as possible with consumers on how we use their data and how the various marketing channels work. If trust increases as a result, that’s only going to benefit the industry as a whole.”