Balancing precision targeting and brand fame effectively

It is one of the most pressing questions facing marketers today: in an age when it is possible to refine consumer targeting – in particular online – to such a granular level with so much sophistication, where should we be making the trade off between reaching a highly relevant but niche audience, vs making our brand famous to consumers at large?

Drawing upon findings from our Dimension 2019 study into the key challenges and opportunities facing the media industry today drawing upon consumer and industry expert views, we can explore the different forces at play that ultimately enable us to answer this question.

Ad blocking remains steady

To begin with, we must initially take a step back and assess how consumers today feel about advertising. A great way to look at this holistically is to assess how adoption of ad blocking has changed in recent years. In 2017 19% of UK connected* adults said that they always use an ad blocker, increasing to 22% in 2018 and remaining at 22% this year. This would suggest ad blocking is not currently accelerating out of control.

We must be mindful that ad blocking is a cause for considerable concern – indeed when the ‘always use’ figure is combined with the proportion of connected adults who say they ‘sometimes use’ an ad blocker the total figure is 58% – but as much as it’s not going down, it also seems it’s not going up.

UK consumer views on advertising today particularly downbeat

What about what consumers explicitly think about advertising today? Our Dimension 2019 findings tell us that in the UK just 11% of connected consumers say of advertising they ‘like it generally, it can be enjoyable’ – compared to 24% across the five markets as a whole in which the study was conducted**. Clearly UK consumers in particular are very disengaged with advertising today.

The message must be tailored to the medium to have impact

But of course the picture varies by medium. When it comes to cinema, 30% of UK connected consumers said they enjoy advertising in that environment. But at the other end of the scale, only 17% claim to enjoy advertising in online publications.

Clearly there’s a problem here – all things being equal, these figures should be roughly equal if as an industry we were investing appropriately in messaging by media type, instead of falling into the trap of all too often taking a one-size-fits-all approach. How tempting for the marketer to create something that works brilliantly in the audio-visual immersive cocoon of cinema and then roll it out on the tiny screen of a smartphone in expectation of similar engagement.

Consumers admire the precision in general, but not the execution

Lets move on now to get a sense of what consumers feel the future holds. Our Dimension study shows that 61% of UK connected adults believe that advertisers are doing a better job of communicating to them today than previously. A little lower than the 74% figure for the five markets as a whole, but still seemingly encouraging.

However, lets compare this figure against a similar but subtly different question: Is advertising changing for the better or the worse? 32% of UK connected adults feel advertising is changing for the worse and a further 42% feel it is neither getting better nor worse. That means almost three-quarters in total feel either it’s getting worse or at least not getting better.

How do we reconcile this figure with the seemingly more optimistic 61% of connected adults for whom advertisers are getting better at communicating with them? The answer is that one question is about the art of communicating, i.e. precision targeting, which has become so sophisticated in recent years, whilst the other is about the engagement of advertising – the creative execution – itself. Just like we saw earlier with advertising engagement fluctuating by medium, the issue here is one of engagement rather than targeting.

Precision targeting doing damage we do not always see because it is not measured

We can use our Dimension data to dig a little deeper into this point. 53% of UK connected adults claim to prefer to see ads relevant to their particular interests – showing they appreciate a level of targeting. But 56% object to being targeted as a result of past online activity and 73% say the see the same ad over and over again and it is too repetitive.

There we have the crux of it – the precision targeting pendulum has swung too far, beyond what consumers find engaging. This is summed up well in a quote from one of the industry leaders who contributed to our Dimension study, Cheryl Calverley, CMO at Eve Mattresses, UK, who said “What you can’t see from the data is the damage you might be doing by retargeting people endlessly with your products”.

As an industry we can be guilty of seizing upon the measurable side of precision targeting and not fully comprehending the unrecorded damage done by alienating large swathes of target consumers by endlessly showing them ads they find irrelevant and annoying.

Context is important to consumers

When it comes to re-targeting, another thing that the media and marketing industries can be guilty of is targeting consumers wherever they are, with little attention paid to the forum on which the ad is served. However, data from our Dimension study reveals that for a considerable proportion of UK connected consumers, context is very important. 32% believe they are more likely to believe advertising when it appears on the website of a trusted brand, whilst 48% say they are more likely to notice ads on platforms that they enjoy using.


So what can we surmise from all that we have seen from the Dimension findings? Clearly consumers’ main concerns about advertising – negativity towards too much retargeting, frequency and the threat to privacy – result from precision targeting rather than brand building activities. One of our contributing industry experts, Claire Dean, Global Strategy Director at MediaCom, sums it very well when she says “We like to think that there’s one model that fits everything. But the reality is, it depends. And in most instances you need both penetration and precision working in combination in order to deliver both short-term results and long-term growth”.

*Adults aged 18+ who access the internet through at least two different device types (e.g. laptop, desktop, smartphone etc.

**Brazil, France, China, UK, USA

For more on this theme from Dimension, as well as others, please see our series of short recorded webinars

Search article

Keep informed - sign up to our newsletter

Receive news, insights and event invitations from across our connected intelligence offering.

Sign up

Find out more

Ad saturation and over targeting putting industry at risk claims new Kantar report
Read more