50% of users hit by irrelevant marketing

Chris Daly, Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Marketing
Chris Daly, Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Marketing

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has released research showing marketing is poorly targeted. The survey pulls together some interesting research that will help strengthen the hand of ad blockers. It will also get the attention of privacy advocates after 55% of people said they had not consented to the use of their contact details. The survey comes a couple of days after Google was reported to be planning ad-blocking technology in its Chrome web browser.

According to Chris Daly, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing: “What’s most worrying about these results is that they are unsurprising. In our interconnected, ‘always on’ world, being bombarded with irrelevant materials has become the expected or the norm. It’s not good enough and it’s eroding the trust between customers and businesses. We need to act now and this is why we are asking organisations to take the Data Right pledge, to commit to showing greater respect and accountability to their customers.”

How bad is the problem?

If the numbers are accurate then billions of pounds are being wasted by advertisers. More importantly, as Daly says, that waste is eroding trust in the marketing industry. The CIM survey says that 42% of respondents said they received marketing via social media at least once per day.

That number is interesting and seems very low. It suggests that either users are not seeing all the adverts pushed across social media or they are not aware of the difference between adverts and posts. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are inserting large numbers of adverts into users streams. In the case of LinkedIn 1 post in 10 is sponsored content which is another way for saying advert. Twitter is slightly higher at around 1 per 8 posts. Facebook, however, has a much lower advertising rate inside posts although it does carry adverts on the page.

Part of the problem is the way that advertisers choose what to display. They look at the browsing history of a computer and use that to display adverts. Where a machine is shared with other people it means that advertising will never be focused. It is also skewed by poor advertising practices where irrelevant ads served to a user become part of future analytics.

It is not just advertising for hobbies, interests or products that are not relevant to the users. 35% report that they get promotions for places they do not live in or visit. This is again about poor data collection by advertisers. Once that data is in the systems, however, it is impossible to clean out.

Can marketing teams ever be trusted?

The answer appears to be yes. The CIM research looked at which sectors were the best and worst when it comes to marketing trust. Consumer goods and publishing were deemed to be the least trustworthy. This is not really a surprise. The majority of the media relies on advertising to fund itself. As such they are quick to harvest user data and sell it on to their advertisers. Similarly, the low margin and highly competitive consumer goods market needs turnover. Marketing teams are therefore quick to buy in lists and run as many ads as possible to get more sales.

The marketing teams trusted to use data right are those in financial services. 34% of survey respondents rated them as trustworthy. Pharmaceuticals (25%) were next up with professional and business services (16%) in third place. It’s perhaps worth noting that financial services and pharmaceuticals are regulated industries. While that does not necessarily extend to all their marketing it does cover data management and privacy.

The CIM has recently launched a campaign entitled Data Right. This is aimed at helping marketing teams manage data better. It has four primary goals:

  • Be clear: businesses should tell consumers how and when they will use their data
  • Show respect: companies need to ensure trust, honesty and accountability are at the heart of the relationship with their customers
  • Be in the know: businesses need to continually familiarise themselves with the dos and don’ts of data rights and the law, such as the upcoming changes due to new GDPR legislation, and best practice
  • Show the benefits: businesses must help customers understand how data collection can benefit them

These are a good start but can marketing teams deliver? It will be interesting to see how many companies sign up and how the CIM monitors its members.


Taking the figures from the survey that show 50% figure of marketing is wasted the cost to marketing departments is huge. The Internet Advertising Bureau in the UK (IABUK) put 2016’s digital advertising spend at over £10 billion. If 50% is wasted then marketing teams are throwing away £5 billion. With marketing budgets being cut and organisations struggling to balance the books, this is a lot of money that could be better used.

It is not just the money. The lack of trust and failure of transparency in how data is gathered is more damaging to marketing. The last few years have seen the rise of the ad blocker which has reduced the number of ads users see. Perhaps this is why the number complaining about social media is so low. Ad blocking is something users want but it is seriously hurting some businesses such as media sites who rely on advertising.

Marketing teams are quick to complain when their advertising doesn’t bring in the required number of customers. This survey shows why that is happening. The big question is, can it create a better marketing approach?


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