The holiday season is in full swing and so are digital marketing campaigns. Given that online shopping edged out in-store shopping on Black Friday this year, and Cyber Monday saw unprecedented sales (especially via mobile transactions), it’s clear that the digital sphere is the critical space for reaching target audiences.

In fact, research predicts that by the end of this year digital advertising will account for the majority of total advertising in the U.S., expected to hit $129 billion. Yet, to what effect? Are all of the promo emails in your inbox and the personalized ads you see retargeting you across websites driving you to purchase? Consider that the average consumer is bombarded with more than 5,000 ads on a daily basis, resulting in ‘banner blindness’ and negative sentiment towards advertising. 

CivicScience checked in on how people in the U.S. judge the relevance of digital ads they see and their click-through rates. Survey results of more than 1,900 respondents found that close to one-third of U.S. adults rate the digital ads they see as relevant to their interests.

Just a tiny percentage (2%) view digital ads as “very relevant”; however, the percentage of those who view digital ads as “somewhat relevant” has grown slightly (up to 29%) since CivicScience last reported on the topic in Q3 of 2018. 

Couple that with an increase in self-reporting on click-through rates — those who say they are “somewhat likely” to click through on a digital ad relevant to their interests has also grown from 28% in 2018, to 35% today. 

The question is to what extent that data represents more effective advertising and targeting, the holiday season in general, or growth of online (and mobile) shopping — or all of the above.

CivicScience also looked at other channels of advertising, such as emailing. Tracking since 2017 showed that of more than 300,000 U.S. adults, only 10% rate email as a top influential form of advertisement to their purchasing behavior. 

In contrast, the internet (50%) — of course, including ad revenue-based social media platforms — and television (40%) were viewed as the most influential forms of advertising when it comes to driving conversion.

Digital Ads Speak to Younger Audiences

Survey results show a correlation between age and relevancy. Younger audiences are more likely to find ads online relevant to their interests. Despite being far more prolific users of digital media, only 40% of Gen Z and Millennials rate digital ads as relevant to them.

This is an interesting finding for several reasons. Even though marketers may be going hard to reach social media users (who index as younger) and past data show that social media users are more likely to find ads relevant and click on them, the fact still remains that Gen Z is the age group with the least amount of spending power. 

Ad Blocking and Privacy Concerns Challenge Tomorrow’s Advertising

Still, being better able to track habits and behaviors and reach younger audiences today could lead to effective marketing down the road, when they gain more spending power. Except it’s not that simple — the survey found that close to 50% of 18- to 24-year-olds use ad blockers on their computer. (Not to mention, you can adjust most smartphones to block ads and suspend tracking across sites without installing an ad blocker.)

These mixed results factor into a larger national dialogue surrounding personalized advertising strategies. Research finds that U.S. consumers crave a more personalized shopping experience, but at the same time, don’t want their data to be tracked and don’t want to sacrifice personal privacy. In fact, CivicScience data show that nearly 80% of adults are concerned about their data being used by advertisers. 

When it comes to the future of advertising, that’s a tangled web for any business to navigate.