The cost of creepiness: how online behavioral advertising affects consumer purchase intention Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
  • Barnard, Lisa
    • Affiliation: Hussman School of Journalism and Media
  • Technological progress has enabled marketers to track and use online behavioral data to target consumers more effectively with relevant advertisements than was possible in the past. For example, marketers are increasingly using an online marketing practice called retargeting, in which an individual consumer is served an ad for the exact product she shopped for in the past - at a later time, on a different website. Historically, the research on tailored advertising has shown positive effects on persuasion, affect and memory. However, previous research does not take into consideration the increasing availability of consumer data online and newer techniques that tailor advertising to match an individual's past online behaviors. The current study tested newer tailored advertising techniques in an experimental context, to discover whether the effects of tailoring are still consistent for newer, more invasive, practices. This study examined the relationship between the type of information used to tailor an ad and purchase intentions toward the featured products, using reactance theory as a framework. The results revealed that while behaviorally targeted online ads do have a positive direct effect on purchase intention, as marketers assume, exposure to behavioral tailoring also sets off a negative indirect effect on purchase intention that attenuates the positive direct effect. This reduction of purchase intention can be attributed to the creepiness factor - or the sense that marketers are watching, tracking, following, assessing, and capitalizing on an individual's personal information or online activities that she perceives as private. Exposure to behaviorally tailored ads led to increased perceived creepiness, which led to increased threat, increased reactance, negative attitudes toward the ad, and ultimately negative purchase intention toward the featured product. The overall effect on purchase intention was reduced by five percent, indicating that the creepy aspects of behavioral tailoring have a real cost for marketers. Theoretical, methodological, and practical implications are discussed, and directions for future research are offered.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Comello, Maria Leonora
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2014

This work has no parents.