29.04.2019 change 29.04.2019
Ludwika Tomala
Ludwika Tomala

Manipulation in online advertising. Do online ads lie to us and how?

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

What new ways do advertisers use to manipulate recipients online - in the era of influencers, mobile apps containing ads and social media? Economist Prof. Jan W. Wiktor from the Cracow University of Economics analyses this in his research work.

"In Poland, 30 percent of advertising budget is spent on online advertising (PLN 3.2 billion, with the value of the Polish advertising market at PLN 9.5 billion) In 2021, global online advertising expenditure will amount to 330 billion dollars, 50 percent of the advertising market estimated at 660 billion dollars" - says Prof. Jan Wiktor from the Department of Marketing at the Cracow University of Economics, citing the media agency Zenith research data. He adds that now almost 50 percent of the online advertising market is display advertising (including social media, banners), 30 percent is SEM (Search Engine Marketing), and 20 percent - video advertising.

The purpose of advertising, including online advertising, is to acquire customers. And that does not always happen as honestly as the ad recipients would want. In his research, Prof. Wiktor analyses how online advertisers manipulate consumer behaviour.

The researcher points out that in the age of the Internet, the communication of advertisers with potential users has changed significantly. For example, younger participants of "digital lifestyle" engage in "digital friendships with the brand" on social networking sites, they are active viewers of Youtube videos and commercials. The formula: "you watch for free thanks to advertising" is met with social acceptance.

On the other hand, thanks to the Internet recipients also gain new tools for responding to advertising. For example, they can respond to advertisements in the comments under specific ads. "On the other hand, the results of empirical research show a growing criticism of various forms of online advertising, and the importance of ad blocker software continues to grow" - the expert says.

In addition - as the researcher from the Cracow University of Economics explains - there are two strategies of the recipient`s contact with online advertising: push and pull. Push is a strategy of "pushing" advertising through various online channels in an attempt to reach a specific segment of recipients. In turn, the pull strategy is based on "extracting" desired information from the network by potential customers. "The pull strategy gives internet users a sense of large, perhaps even full autonomy" - Prof. Wiktor says. He points out that, for example, advertisers use famous people (celebrities, influencers, youtubers) in a specific situational, temporal and psychological context. This creates clear grounds for exerting a hidden influence on advertising recipients. "In the absence of transparency of information, its ambiguity - it is a classic manipulation of another person`s behaviour" - comments Prof. Wiktor.

Another phenomenon related to online advertising is message personification. "It is a delivery of specific content and form +on demand+"- the researcher explains. "Online activity, its time and path of visits, places - social networks, watched videos, clicks on offers, always leave a permanent footprint, which appropriate algorithms bind to a specific internet user profile. Do we realize this +subtle+ form of hints? I think that, for the most part, we do not" - Prof. Jan Wiktor describes the problem.

The researcher from the Cracow University of Economics expects that such hidden forms of persuasion, concealed impact on the unaware user`s behaviour, may make the user become loyal to a brand or place of purchase over the years. "In the course of our research, we will seek an empirical answer to this question" - says Prof. Jan Wiktor.

In the analysis of manipulation in advertising, the economist will use the concept of communication asymmetry. "This concept was proposed by the 1970 Nobel Prize winner George Akerlof. He used the example of used car trade to propose a look at the market where its participants - sellers and buyers - had a different level of information about the object of transaction. Such asymmetry can be the source of manipulation and lead to deceiving the less informed party" - the researcher says.

Researchers want to determine the practical impact of information asymmetry in online advertising on particular phases of consumer behaviour on the market: These phases include awakening the need, seeking information, evaluation of purchase options, making the purchase and its evaluation in the process of use in different periods. "This is an important, even crucial detailing of research designed to provide objective, legitimate knowledge about the impact of online advertising on the behaviour of e-consumers."

The research project is just beginning and will continue for two years. It is carried out as part of the OPUS grant from the National Science Centre.

PAP - Science in Poland, Ludwika Tomala

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