Suits you sir!


In the not too distant past we lived in a world where ‘customisation’ was something you had to pay a premium for. Want a decent suit off the rack at an affordable price? Go to M&S. Want it customised to your shape and size? Go to a tailor and pay treble the price.

advertising customer Facebook Netflix

Today, we are fast approaching a world where everything is customised, which no longer comes at a premium… and it’s happening without us always knowing.

Our Facebook feeds are driven by an algorithm which figures out what we want to engage with. Netflix show us movies they think we’ll want to watch. Google show us results they think will be most relevant to us. Amazon recommends products we might want to buy based on our purchase history. Spotify create customised playlists based on our listening history. Companies adapt their websites based on our previous onsite behaviour and advertisers customise creative messaging based on our interests.

And they do all of this because it works.  Adverts that are customised are up to four times as effective as adverts that aren’t.*

But it also creates confusion and, occasionally, concern. In October, Netflix had to deny the accusation that they tailor their promotions based on the customer’s ethnicity.  Netflix said they don’t track ethnicity, so by definition can’t use this to tailor their promotions. But it begs the question – what level of personalisation is acceptable?  If we’re comfortable using gender or age to tailor creative messaging, why not ethnicity?  And as advertisers what is our responsibility for making sure customers understand how we are tailoring communications?


To identify the boundaries it is helpful to talk about a few theoretical examples:

It’s December, it’s Monday, it’s 6:15pm and it’s raining in Edinburgh.  A digital out of home advert at a bus stop on a main commuter route reflects the fact that many people who view the ad will be commuters who have had a rough day and aren’t feeling too optimistic about life in that moment.  The advert encourages them to lift their Monday mood by signing up to their local gym for a free session, with no obligation to sign up to a 12 month contract.  

It’s smart.  It’s well targeted.  It’s not creepy.  It’s not intrusive.  It doesn’t leave anyone wondering if they’re being watched or followed.

It's 8pm on a long dark Sunday evening in January.  Peter ate and drank a little more than he had planned over Christmas.  He’s watching TV while browsing the web on his mobile phone.  A display ad appears within an article he’s reading which reads “Hi Peter, you spent £243 eating out in December, join your local gym and burn off those calories”. 

It’s creepy.  It’s intrusive.  It’s rude.  It’s uncomfortable.

The technology and data exists today to make both of these examples a reality.


But just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should. Data is powerful and it needs to be treated with respect.  The power of customisation is enormous in the right hands and should be used with care; with the best results undoubtedly being achieved when data, creative and media work together in harmony.

But in the wrong hands, it can do lasting damage to a brand.


*Based on over 50 campaigns delivered across 2018 by Presto, the dynamic creative optimisation platform developed by Dentsu Aegis Network

advertising customer Facebook Netflix
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