A majority of UK consumers (55%) would prefer to see more relevant ads served to them online, while 52% are happy to see ads as they appreciate that it allows them to access free content.

However, though 48% presumably aren't happy to see ads, just one in ten would pay for ad-free content. 

A study published by the IAB and ValueClick, based on 2,000 interviews (conducted online and offline), looks at consumer attitdudes to online ads, privacy and, of course, cookies.

Here are a few of the stats from the study...

Cookie confusion

There is much discussion of cookies thanks to the e-Privacy Directive, and one thing that comes from the various surveys is the lack of understanding of what cookies do. 

In our recent cookie law survey, 40% said they believed cookies were bad for the web, while a recent IMRG study found that 33% thought they could be used for viruses and trojans. 

This IAB study reveals a similar level of misunderstanding. Though half of the respondents said they had deleted cookies in the past six months, a lot of them didn't know what they were. 

Of the 64% of people who said they knew what a cookie is, only 57% actually chose the correct definition from the options shown to them (in our recent survey, 69% said they knew what a cookie is). 

This means that 39% of people who deleted cookies in the last six months did so without correctly knowing what cookies are and what they’re used for.

Do you know what an online cookie is and why websites use them?

This further underlines the issues facing websites looking to comply with the e-Privacy Directive and persuade customers to give their consent.

If most don't even know what they are, how can they make an informed decision, and will they trust the explanations provided by online retailers? 

Attitudes to online advertising

52% of consumers are happy to see online advertising because it allows them to view content or use services online at no cost. 61% expect that a large portion of the web would disappear without the advertising revenue that is needed to support it. 

It's good that a majority appreciate the importance of advertising though it seems the other 39% expect free content while failing to appreciate how it is provided to them. 

Customers also want control, 45% want to control the ads they see online, while 40% want 'easy access' to the information that is being stored about them. 

Relevant advertising

This is a point on which marketers and consumers agree. Web users don't want to see irrelevant ads, and advertisers want to deliver their content to a receptive audience. 

55% said they would rather see online advertising relevant to their interests and 59% would prefer a lower number of relevant ads than a higher volume of irrelevant ones. 

This is where cookies are vital, and the e-Privacy Directive will actually work against consumer wishes in this case. 

This is because, according to our recent survey, the very cookies that store information which is used to improve the relevance of ads are those that consumers are least likely to consent to. 

Just 21% are happy to consent to cookies which are used to improve ad relevance, and 17% for those used to target them on third party sites. 

What kinds of cookies would you be happy to consent to?

If consumers want more relevant ads, and free content on the web, the price is to provide enough information to allow this to happen. People are happy enough to share plenty of details and photos of their personal lives on Facebook. The information stored on most cookies is nowhere near as personal. 

Image credit: mollybob via Flickr

Graham Charlton

Published 10 May, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (6)

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Damon Francis

The holy grail of matching ads to a page has been described as knowing “the right consumer, at the right time, at the right frame of mind”. Cookies have been useful but are they really affective? For the delivery of highly relevant ads based on the content being consumed by the user in real time you need cookie-less semantic targeting.

over 6 years ago


Anders Schäffner Jacobsen

Great article Graham.

There is however a significant misinterpretation of referenced IMRG survey. The survey showed that 33% of users believed cookies could be used for viruses and trojans and thus it is not correct to state "a recent IMRG study found that 33% thought they were used for viruses and trojans". It's important to differentiate between these when discussing users' understanding of cookies

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@Anders You're right, I've corrected that now. Thanks.

over 6 years ago

Alec Sharratt

Alec Sharratt, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Thanks for the nice article. I think that this kind of widespread confusion and misunderstanding will be one of the largest obstacles to online marketing in the future... The technology that facilitates data gathering, paid ads, tracking, shopping, etc is constantly being developed; as a result the average consumer or internet user will always be behind the curve on such technology. Ignorance often leads to anger and confusion as people begin to fear that which they do not understand.

It seems evident that once people feel as though their privacy is being threatened they are prepared to start making rash decisions.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@ Alec Yes, it's good that so many do see that online ads are essential to allow sites to provide free content, but there is a problem with consumer perceptions.

It's hard to see how you solve the problem of consumers being behind the curve and it's a shame that the 'cookie law', however well intentioned, doesn't look likely to do this.

over 6 years ago


Ian Saunders

The relevance that users seek is available right now through the use of semantic advertising solutions. The technology exists to be able to relate the content that the user is viewing to advertising opportunities. We have been in this space since 2004 and providing multilingual abd scalable ad targeting solutions without harvesting user information though cookie placements.

over 6 years ago

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