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Scary Stories Consumers Tell in the Dark: Personalized Ads That Spook

Welcome, foolish mortals enlightened marketers, to the Haunted Mentions. These are the scary stories consumers tell in the dark — or on Twitter — about brands that have taken their personalization tactics too far. To avoid spooking your audiences, heed these cautionary tales of ads too targeted, poorly targeted, and not targeted enough. There’s no turning back now.

*Cue thunder*

1. The invasion of the mind-reading advertisements …

spooky personalized ads

Marketers, beware: While you may credit ad targeting to sophisticated tech and elaborate dataset points, some consumers might find a too-targeted approach unsettling. Or worse, accuse your brand of violating privacy laws. That said, personalization is very much a spectrum — with 73% of consumers enjoying recommendations based on past purchases, according to a 2022 Cheetah Digital report.

To maximize engagement and minimize scare: Stay privacy-compliant. Stick to opted-in, first-party data. Optimize your ad delivery with contextual or cohort-based targeting tactics that won’t scare away consumers. Or get an ad server that can do that all for you. ;)

2. The product poltergeist ...

Consumers want recommended products, but they don’t want to be haunted by toilet seats all over the internet. Avoid getting ghosted by factoring purchase cycles into your targeted ad approach. Understanding when to start — and stop — serving an ad (i.e., after purchase) can be incredibly powerful.

More on this with Innovid Co-Founder and CTO Tal Chalozin in his “Amobee Out Loud” interview on creating personalized experiences on CTV — tune in here!

3. Content that creeps …

No monsters under the bed here. Geo-location, kids in the family, and back-to-school season are likely attributes of this personalized ad. But it also serves as a lesson on the importance of messaging. You may have the right data and a targeted audience — but if your buyer doesn’t resonate with the creative or understand why they are receiving it, it’s all for nothing. To create a personalized experience that doesn’t bug out potential buyers, use the data you have to tailor your messaging to each target group.

For example, if you’re running a video ad on CTV, contextual or cohort-based attributes — like family, household, or what channel or show a viewer is watching — can be used to optimize which ad version that viewer is served. So, an empty-nester watching daytime soaps won’t see an ad for lice treatment, but a product of more value to them.

Of course, to achieve this you’ll need multiple variations of your creative … and an ad server that can get it in front of the right person at the right time. (That’s us.)

4. Personalization overkill!


Relevance and value is never creepy. Personalization for personalization’s sake? Very creepy. (See above.)

Consider common data points like geo-location and name. On one end of the convenience-to-creepiness spectrum, you can use this data to personalize an automobile ad with the closest dealership location to the consumer — or display their name on a “Share a Coke With” campaign. On the other end, you’re essentially telling your consumer that you know where they live and “What They Did Last Summer.” When personalizing, be cool. Provide value. Don’t hammer down on the personal details.

In Conclusion, How to Not Be Creepy

Consumers want and expect personalization. But it has to be done correctly. 



  • Use data to deliver ads consumers actually want to see. Value ≠ creepy.
  • Steer clear of hyper-targeting that comes off as invasive. Use more fragmented first-party and contextual data to personalize ads without spooking consumers.
  • Know your audience — and their purchase history. Consumers don’t want to be stalked by items they have already purchased.
  • Tailor your creatives to serve the right message to the right audience. Data + audience + content = happy consumer. 
  • Don’t personalize ads just for the sake of it. How you use geo-targeting and other data points seals your fate on the convenience-to-creepiness scale.

Good luck — and Happy Halloween from Innovid!