What are interest-based ads?

What are interest-based ads?

What are interest-based adsRecently, I came across this question on Quora – What are interest-based ads? I regularly spend a little time on Quora to answer questions people have about online advertising and marketing.  I decided to answer, and further share that answer on my blog.

Interest-based ads, also known as online behavioral advertising, are ads that advertisers target to an audience based on their interests.

Interest-based ads in more detail…

When you surf the web, websites, and ad platforms keep track of the content you come across, and interact with. These include Facebook, Google and a ton of others you’ve never heard of.

Each has its own set of rules to qualify someone as being interested in any topic (automobiles, fashion, travel, etc.). These rules can look like these:

  • has seen 5+ pieces of topic-related content in the past 7 days
    • it can be more or fewer pieces of content, over less or more days (weeks, months…)
  • has interacted with any content of this topic a minimum of 1x in the past 5 days
    • again, can be more or fewer times, over varying periods of time.

To be clear, most interest-based advertising is possible with the use of 3rd party online cookies, which are being blocked more and more. In other words, these “interests” are assumed based on your online surfing behavior. No one actually knows for a fact you’re shopping for a car or are expecting a baby.

Then, when advertisers use these platforms to run their ad campaigns, they use their audience targeting options to reach people most likely to be interested and engage with their ads.


Digital Advertising Alliance of CanadaThere are regulatory bodies that allow you to control whether you want to be exposed to interest-based ads. In the US, the DAA – Digital Advertising Alliance manages the opt-out platform users can use, in partnership with the industry (online publishers and advertisers) that wants to respect their clients’ wishes. In Canada, it’s the DAAC. Similar organizations exist around the world.

Profile-based ads

Interest-based ads should not be confused with profile-based ads. These are ads targeted to you based on the information you’ve declared in your online profile of any given platform (Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc…).

In other words, this information is not assumed, it is known because you told the platform that info (your age, address, gender, preferences, etc.

For this type of advertising, most countries have a Consumer Privacy Commissioner (or similar position) within their government which interfaces with the companies named above to ensure their practices respect the country’s privacy laws. They further require these companies to provide their users with opt-out mechanisms.

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