Poll: Most Americans Prefer Some Targeted Advertising

A majority of U.S. web users don’t mind some targeted advertising and prefer free, ad-supported internet content rather than paying for ad-free content, according to a recent poll conducted in part by the Digital Advertising Alliance. But some critics raise questions about the results.

Targeted advertising may get a bad rap, but as one association found in a recent study, most consumers don’t actually mind.

A new poll conducted by the Digital Advertising Alliance and Zogby Analytics found that 68 percent of Americans like at least some online advertising targeted at their interests.

Ninety-two percent of U.S. web users think free content, like news, weather, and blogs, is important to the overall value of the internet, and 75 percent prefer ad-supported content to paying for ad-free content.

“The data reveals an American public that is largely supportive of the advertising-funded internet and is leery of efforts to drastically change the way it operates,” said Lou Mastria, managing director of the DAA, in a statement. “In light of that, it makes sense to focus on transparency and choice solutions that are already working, rather than on new, untested initiatives which obscure choice and may damage the advertising support of the internet economy.”

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 Americans, found that cybersecurity is a major concern for internet users. Thirty-nine percent said the biggest concern was identity theft; 33 percent said viruses and malware; 12 percent said government surveillance; 5 percent cited cyber bullying or stalking; and 4 percent said behavioral targeting was a main concern.

Some other highlights from the survey:

  • Forty percent prefer all ads be directly targeted to their interests.
  • Forty-seven percent would oppose a law that would restrict how data is used for internet advertising but also potentially reduce free content availability.
  • Seventy-five percent want the ability to choose the ads they want to see, as opposed to 4 percent who said government should choose. Along those lines, 61 percent don’t trust the government to regulate how internet advertising is delivered.

The poll results created more questions than they answered, according to a university professor who spoke with Adweek.

“The questions were designed to get the answer the DAA wanted,” said Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, in the interview. “What’s really going on with behavioral advertising is really against what people want. People want control and don’t want to feel that they’ve been pushed in a certain direction.”

Mastria responded in the same Adweek article that the DAA hoped the study would “inform the debate” and that it was “unfortunate that targeted advertising has been conflated with all kinds of privacy fears.”

The study also flies in the face of two reports in recent years that show most Americans don’t want targeted ads.

According to a post in Online Media Daily, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found last year that 68 percent of Americans opposed targeted ads because they “don’t want to be tracked and profiled.” A study in 2009 by the Annenberg School and the University of California, Berkeley School of Law—which Turow was a part of—revealed that two out of three web users didn’t want targeted ads.


Daniel Ford

By Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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