Dr Ewa Masłowska is a Polish researcher whose studies concern marketing communication and consumer behavior. She graduated from Jagiellonian University with a Master’s degree in Psychology and then continued her education at the University of Amsterdam, where she completed her PhD in persuasive communication. Dr Masłowska is currently an Assistant Professor of Advertising at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign .
Do you happen to remember the scene from Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story,in which John Anderton is addressed by name by interactive ads while strolling through a shopping mall? Although advertising is not there yet, we are getting increasingly closer to achieving such advanced personalization. All thanks to the digital world we live in that allows companies to track our online and offline behaviors.dr Masłowska says.
What is personalization?
Nowadays the Internet is an integral part of everyone’s life. We use it everyday in order to do a wide range of things. We may even say that people who are unable to use the internet are partially excluded from life, especially social life. According to dr Ewa Masłowska: When participating in digital activities (e.g., texting, sharing content on social media, etc.), we leave behind enormous amounts of digital trace data, which have been shown to be very revealing when it comes to our characteristics and hence are used to infer our interests, needs, motives, political views, emotions, etc. Our digital footprints are collected and mined to create profiles and develop algorithms to dynamically serve us personalized content, being that ad messages or product recommendations. The research of Ewa Masłowska tries to understand how people engage with such personalized content depending on the different data used for personalization.
In today’s world personalization is everywhere. Even if you think about the concept of Spotify Wrapped, which is very anticipated by young people – Spotify Technology S.A. has algorithms that track your usage of the app in order to sum it up for you, as well as give you similar recommendations. It needs to be said that personalization is not a new idea at all, but it is better developed than it has ever been before. As dr Masłowska says: Personalization may be applied to the format of the message (framing, writing style), its content (e.g., tailored health tips, recommended products or songs), or the context (e.g., the content of a website, time of the day). Together with my colleagues, we distinguished cue-based and trait-based personalization. Cue-based personalization describes the inclusion of personally recognizable cues (e.g., the recipient’s name) in an otherwise generic message. Trait-based personalization adapts a message (its textual and/or visual content) to the recipient’s characteristics, which may be states (e.g., emotions) or traits (values, personalities).
Cambridge Analytica scandal
Personalization attracted significant media attention during the so-called Cambridge Analytica scandal, when it came to light that a British political consulting company used tons of data, (including social media data) to build (personality) profiles of voters. The aim of this was to target them with personalized messages. It may have had some kind of impact on Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, however according to dr Masłowska: The empirical research investigating the effectiveness of personalization is still inconclusive. Personalized messages are believed to attract attention, because they are being recognized as ”for me” type of content, but even though the personalization has been created so that the recipients will not avoid ads and not view them skeptically, there is also research that suggests that personalization may lead to rather small effects or even negative outcomes.
My research deals with the increasing personalization of communication in the form of personalized advertisements and recommendations. My early work has shed some light on the effects of cue-based personalization strategies, in which I used a name, gender, or location. I showed that for such personalization to have an effect, the message needs to be perceived as personalized by its recipients […].says dr Masłowska.
While personalization can make our lives easier, it also brings up important ethical questions. It has to be mentioned that most people are not aware of the amount of the digital trace data they produce – it is important to remember that sometimes our data is being collected even without an explicit consent from us.
The response of social media platforms
We have already covered the subject of Online advertising in the post-cookie era. In 2024, browsers, including Google Chrome, will end the use of third-party cookies. According to the report of the Association of Internet Industry Employers IAB Polska: Browser owners cite a desire to increase web users’ privacy and trust in the online advertising environment as a key reason for discontinuing support for 3rd party cookies . According to dr Masłowska: Many social media platforms, including Facebook, began limiting their targeting specificity (e.g., by allowing users to disconnect their profiles from third party apps). While consumers appreciate personalized experiences and rarely become active in limiting the disclosure of private information, they also report concerns about their privacy. This tension creates a challenge for advertisers (on social media) to offer personalized ad experiences, leading to positive effects of advertising, while creating an environment that exposes audiences to diverse opinions, benefiting the ongoing discourse in the society.
If you are interested in the subject of advertisement or digital trace data, we recommend you to take an interest in research conducted by a Polish researcher, dr Ewa Masłowska.
- Maslowska’s page on the website of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, https://media.illinois.edu/advertising/maslowska-ewa
- The Effects of Personalized Social Media Political Advertising on Attitude Formation:
The Role of Personality and Political Orientation, Ewa Maslowska), Su Jung Kim, Khadija Vakeel), Morana Fuduric, Jakob Ohme (not published yet).
- Raport IAB Polska i PBI: Reklama online w dobie post-cookie, 2nd Edition of the study, November 2022, https://www.iab.org.pl/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/IABPolska_PostCookie2022_.pdf