Online political ads: Effective or creepy?

Televisions display a political advertisement with the image of former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista Gingrich at an appliance store in Urbandale, Iowa.

Stacey Vanek Smith: A study out today says voters find targeted, online political ads creepy and 86 percent didn't want political ads to be tailored to their interests.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer joins me live, now, from Washington. Good morning Nancy.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: Hey Stacey.

Vanek Smith: Nancy, how do these targeted political ads work?

Marshall-Genzer: Stacey, I think you do a fair amount of shoe shopping -- am I right? So, campaigns look at what credit card you use. Then they look at what news articles you read between shoe shopping. They basically track what you do on and off line, and they build up a database about you. It's called microtargeting.

Vanek Smith: I can see why people find that creepy?

Marshall-Genzer: Yes, people think it's an invasion of privacy. And the survey -- which I should mention is from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania -- says people dislike targeted political ads more than ads that try to get them to buy something.

Vanek Smith: Do people click on the ads anyway?

Marshall-Genzer: Kind of like with negative political ads -- where voters say they hate them but watch them anyway?

I talked about that with one of the authors of the study, Joseph Turow. He teaches communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He says people feel more strongly about these targeted, online political ads. Because they're more personal.

Joseph Turow: People don't like to be tracked. People are upset by the idea that they're being followed They don't want the political process to be managed in the way that this tailoring suggests it is being managed.

Turow says these targeted, political ads might work in the short run. But in the long run voters will wonder what a candidate really stands for because they're just getting ads that are tailored to appeal to them -- with the candidates saying things they think the voter will like.

Vanek Smith: Nancy Marshall Genzer, thank you.

Marshall-Genzer: You're welcome.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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