A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that ads may change how you feel about yourself. Researchers found that people who knew they were seeing targeted ads, and if they were served greener or more sophisticated products, began to think about themselves as greener and classier. In short, you become what the ads say you are. In a statement to OSU Rebecca Walker Reczek, the co-author of the study, explained:
"The power of a behaviorally targeted ad for a green product isn’t just that it persuades you to buy the advertised product. It actually makes you feel more environmentally conscious and can change your behavior. In a sense, you become more like what the ads say you are.”
Robert W. Smith, co-author of the study and assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State elaborated: “Just being aware of being targeted is not enough to change how you act. The targeting has to be based on your behavior and not just demographic attributes such as age or gender.”
When the targeting is based on behaviour, the consumer believes that the advertisers has labelled them as a type. The "green consumer" , or the "sophisticated consumer", and this in turn affects how the consumer views themselves.
“This research introduces the notion that behaviorally targeted advertisements act as implied social labels. We propose that when a consumer knows that an ad has been behaviorally targeted, he or she recognizes that the marketer has made an inference about his or her identity based on his or her past online behavior.”
“We like to think we are quite certain of who we are, but this study suggests that’s not quite the case. We are actually open to suggestions that can change, for example, how ‘outdoorsy’ or ‘sophisticated’ we feel we are. Our views of ourselves can be nudged one way or the other by something as simple as an online ad.”