The move towards data privacy in the U.S. is gaining steam. Apple’s new App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature was released last spring, making it easy for the millions of iPhone users to opt out of third-party app tracking. And then there’s Google Chrome’s phaseout of third-party cookies on the horizon – not to mention new legislation proposals aimed at cracking down on the ‘surveillance advertising’ status quo.

Privacy-forward changes are causing businesses and marketers to rethink and restrategize data collection and ad targeting. CivicScience is keeping a close watch on how this shifting market will play out from the consumer’s perspective. Here’s a quick read on what we’re seeing right now.

Targeted Ads

A March survey asked 2,600+ U.S. adults about the level of personalized, targeted digital ads they encounter. More than one-third (35%) of respondents rated ads they see online as relevant to their interests, with just 5% saying they are “very relevant.” Yet digital ads miss the mark for the majority of Americans.

It Comes Down to Age…

However, things vary dramatically across different subsets of the population. Age is a major one. More than half of adults under the age of 35 say the ads they’re being served up online are relevant to them. Relevance is far lower among older adults. Gen Z adults are three times more likely than Gen X respondents, and 15 times more likely than Baby Boomers, to see digital ads that are “very relevant” to their interests.

…And Social Media Platforms

Of course, social media platforms play a key role for any business advertising online, especially to young adults. Social media users are nearly twice as likely to say that digital ads are relevant to them compared to people who don’t use social media at all.

However, there is significant variation across platforms. A look at four leading social media platforms shows that total ad relevance is highest among TikTok users (67%), followed by Instagram (52%), Facebook (43%), and YouTube (40%). Social media platforms may be well-oiled ad-funded machines that drive clicks and conversion, but as privacy regulations and features disrupt how they can be utilized for advertising, these numbers will be important to watch going forward.

Social Media Ads May Be Funnels to Disappointment 

Outright counterfeit items are a growing problem online today; and as results indicate, so are retail items that simply don’t match the online description, such as in size, color, quality, etc.

An alarming 32% of respondents say they’ve made a purchase after clicking through from a digital ad, but the item they received had been falsely or inaccurately advertised (whether by the ad or on the store’s website). 

As expected, social media users are much more likely to click through digital ads and make purchases – and subsequently get ripped off. A total of 38% of social media users have received purchases that were falsely advertised, compared to 24% of people who don’t use social media.

Looking at correlations with different social media platforms, Instagram users have the highest incidence rate (45%), followed by Facebook (40%) and TikTok (40%) users.

From Clicks to Purchases

The survey also provides valuable data on purchases stemming from digital ads. A total of 45% of adults surveyed have made purchases from digital ads. And among purchasers, a startling 71% have experienced receiving a falsely advertised purchase at some point. 

Gen Z respondents were most likely to click through to purchases, as well as encounter false and inaccurate advertising, while Gen X respondents were the least likely.

Young social media users may be more likely to see digital ads that are relevant to them, but to what end? Relevance only goes so far – users who click on targeted ads that end in misled purchases are likely being conditioned away from future clicks, as well as less likely to trust big tech companies to act responsibly with their personal data. The findings help to further color the landscape as one in need of change.

Interested in how we collect our survey data? Learn more about our collection methodology.