Beneficial or harmful? How (mis)fit of targeted political advertising on social media shapes voter perceptions

Melanie Hirsch, Marlis Stubenvoll, Alice Binder, Jörg Matthes

Targeted political advertising (TPA) on social media builds on tailoring messages to (groups of) individuals’ characteristics based on user data. Questions have been raised about the impact of TPA on recipients and society. In this study, we focus on the fit of TPA, that is, the congruence between TPA and recipients’ preferences, and draw on congruity theories, social identity theory (SIT), and persuasion knowledge. In a two-wave panel study (N = 428) during a Viennese state election, we investigated the relationships between individuals’ perceived fit and misfit of TPA on perceptions about the manipulative intent as well as the benefits and harms for democracy. The findings showed that perceived fit of TPA at Time 1 decreased perceived manipulative intent and increased perceived benefits of TPA at Time 2. The perceived misfit of TPA at Time 1 did not influence individuals’ perceptions at Time 2, and perceptions about the harms of TPA to democracy stayed stable. Findings imply that political campaigners might benefit from targeting but raise questions about individuals’ defense mechanisms against the persuasive technique.

Department of Communication
Journal of Advertising
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
508007 Communication science
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Communication, Marketing, Business and International Management
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