He said, she said: Why we hate (and love) retargeting

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Editor’s Note: We Ravens are passionate about Internet marketing, and we don’t agree on everything. Thus, “He said, she said” was born. It could be an occasional series on the Raven Tools blog – as long as we keep disagreeing. What should we argue about next?

He said: Why I hate retargeting

What do I have to give for 2012 to be the year that retargeting goes away? Let me know, and I’ll seriously consider it.

I don’t like ads following me around the Internet. They’re creepy, unnecessary, and often irrelevant. I would not pick those three adjectives to describe good advertising.

Here are a few recent examples for my own experience:

  • I reviewed Adobe Creative Suite software options for our new creative director. Now Adobe follows me everywhere.
  • I’m a huge Levenger fan and researched their Thai Pad reading pillow. And now the Thai Pad – not just Levenger – follows me everywhere.
  • I looked up details on Online Marketing Summit, at which Raven was a sponsor. Thank goodness that ad has stopped since the event took place last week, but I’m sure they’ll be cueing me up for 2013 soon.

The list is by no means comprehensive. The number of offenders is plentiful. All that said, the ads are harmless. I’ve been ignoring them for a long time now.

But this new batch of über ads pushes a few new buttons:

  • The ads assume I want to buy something. Only the Thai Pad was a possible purchase. The other visits were solely for information. Please don’t penalize me for visiting your website.
  • The math is wrong. My desire to buy is inversely proportional to the number of your ads I see. The idea of bombarding people thoughtlessly offends me as a marketer.
  • The ads are noticeable, and not in a good way. They’re the people no one invites to the party, but they always seem to show up anyway. It makes you want to avoid them at all cost, even if it means leaving a fun party.
  • The process is backward. I initiated the search and visited your website, so I’m well aware of you and your capabilities. I’ll come back if I need you. In the meantime, why wouldn’t you use your money to find other people who don’t know you yet?

Yes, I understand I have some control over the situation, whether it’s opting out with Evidon or using an app like Ghostery to help me at least track who’s watching.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it any better.

She said: Why I love retargeting

OK, maybe love is a strong word. It’s more like I just can’t understand why everyone else hates them so much. To me, retargeting just makes sense – both as an Internet marketer and as a regular old web consumer. Here’s why.

It’s more relevant


Above are two ads I saw recently when I was on one of my favorite sites (and a hotbed of retargeting for me), The Awl. One of these ads is for a brand I trust, offering me cute handbags they know I’m likely interested in.

The other one…I honestly don’t even know what The Darkness is. A new line at Hot Topic? That weird band from 2003? A video game, maybe? Now which one of these am I more likely to click? Yup, you guessed it.

It’s a given that advertising is always going to be around in one form or another. I would rather have it know me well enough to show me things I might actually care about.

It’s competitive intelligence

Yes, OK, ads are stalking you all around the Internet, ya big Internet privacy crybabies. Let’s look on the bright side. If you’re a diligent Internet marketer, at least part of your job is keeping an eye on competitors, perhaps by reading their blogs or visiting their sites.

Retargeting means competitive intelligence could be coming right to you as you shop for shoes or read the news online! That’s a win in my book. Are they overdoing it? Do they have a new offer you need to take note of? Are they doing something creative you can adapt? Learn from it.

It’s no creepier than anything else on the Internet

Between half the stuff on YouTube, Google’s new privacy policy (yes, I’m aware it’s exactly this kind of thing that makes retargeting possible) and Courtney’s Stodden’s Twitter account, aren’t we kinda used to creepy on the Internet by now?

I mean, it’s not like someone’s offering you candy from a windowless van. It’s just retailers trying to sell you stuff. If you’re creeped out by ads following you around way too much, that means that brand is just overdoing their retargeting and needs to set a lower frequency cap on the number of impressions you’re seeing (4-5 ads per day is the going best practice).

It’s effective

Try to remember the last online ad that you really, truly remember seeing – and acting on – that wasn’t “stalking you”? Go ahead; I’ll wait.

If you can’t, that’s a good sign that retargeting works.

Could it be more fine-tuned? Of course. Retargeting is still new and there’s going to be lots of tweaking on the way. But it won’t be long until marketers get sophisticated enough to segment their retargeting into different ads for different stages of the purchasing funnel, from brand awareness to research to purchase. Then we’ll likely see more effective (and less creepy), tailored messages based on the actions you took (or didn’t take) on a site.

It’s not perfect yet, but what advertising is?

Where do you stand on the retargeting debate? Let us know in the comments!

Top photo courtesy clairity on Flickr