Retargeting: Good for business or just creepy?

I don’t know about you, but speaking as a consumer, I find this whole notion of things I’ve looked at on websites following me around everywhere I go online really sinister.

But, when I’ve got my marketing head on, I can understand why large e-commerce brands are using it and getting surprising results.

But what exactly is it, and how does it work? (and yes, you can switch it all off forever)

I get asked this question a lot, so I thought I’d write something to explain how it works.  But before I launch in that you can opt out of retargeting ads really quickly by using a little free app called Adblock Plus   It works a treat. So if you find it really annoying, you just install the app onto your browser, and all ads disappear forever (including Facebook ads).

In a nutshell…

Retargeting is the art (ok the jury’s out on whether or not it’s an art form or not) of showing an ad for something you’ve already viewed on another site. So let’s say you’re eating a sandwich at your desk and you do a bit of browsing on Amazon looking at the latest Nike running shoes. You don’t buy them because you’re interrupted on the phone, or you just haven’t made your mind up yet. But for the rest of the day (or sometimes for the rest of the week), every other website you visit shows you an ad for the exact pair of running shoes you’ve been looking at. Those running shoes stalk you wherever you go.

So here’s what happens…

The online shop (in this case Amazon) sets up its site to save a cookie onto your browser whenever you click into a product listed on their site. That cookie can only be read or changed by the site the created it.

That site (Amazon) buys advertising space on another site, say, The Guardian. Digital ads aren’t fixed spots in the same way a print ad is - they change every time you refresh the page. So our advertising, Amazon saves images, text or code from the page or pages you have viewed. It creates a code which is sent to the publications it wants to advertise in e.g. The Guardian - so as soon as you land on the Guardian site, the ads read the cookie your browser created when you were on the Amazon site, and the code automatically displays the running shoes you were looking at earlier.

Advertisers love this technique because they are targeting their products and services to people who have already expressed some kind of interest - which means the return on investment is much higher than ‘normal’ advertising. The statistics on retargeting's success do seem to vary from brand to brand, but a recent report I read said that retargeted ads are roughly twice as effective as other tactics at getting customers to buy.

This all sounds amazing (and creepy), but I think it falls short when I see ads everywhere for something I’ve already purchased. The retargeting industry still has a long way to go and some kinks to iron out, but don’t expect it to disappear anytime soon. In fact, I think it will become more sophisticated and more prevalent.

So now you know!

See you next week.


jackie harrisComment