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On Retargeting: Fix The Conversation

By - August 30, 2010

The New York Times published a story on the practice of retargeting today, entitled “Retargeting Ads Follow Surfers to Other Sites.” While not nearly as presumptively negative as the WSJ series on marketing and data, it’s telling that the story is slugged with “adstalk” in the URL. Journalists and editors generally dislike and mistrust advertisers – I know, because I am both an editor and a journalist, I’ve worked at places like the Times, and only after studying the business of media for several years (and starting a few companies to boot) have I come around to a more nuanced point of view. We can’t expect every editor to do the same.

But maybe I have an idea that can help.

As the Time piece admits, retargeting is not new. What seems new, the article concludes, is how much the practice has increased, to the point where people feel like they are being “stalked” around the web, often in a fashion that “just feels creepy.”

Well, as I’ve said a million times, marketing is a conversation. And retargeted ads are part of that conversation. I’d like to suggest that retargeted ads acknowledge, with a simple graphic in a consistent place, that they are in fact a retargeted ad, and offer the consumer a chance to tell the advertiser “Thanks, but for now I’m not interested.” Then the ad goes away, and a new one would show up.

The technology and processes required to do such a simple task are already in place. Most third party services which provide retargeting services already use the “i” logo in the creative, which when clicked tells consumers “why am I getting this ad.” Why not extend that to include a “not right now” button, one that allows the consumer to tell the ad he or she is not quite ready for this offer?

Screen shot 2010-08-30 at 8.04.52 AM.pngFacebook is already training us all toward this end with the “X” in the upper right hand corner of every ad on the site (see image at left). Why not modify this practice to mean “No thanks, not right now.” It’s the equivalent of telling a salesperson at a retail outlet “I don’t need your help right now, thanks.”

I’m far more likely to be open to a marketer who offers me a platform to politely say “no thanks for now” that one who pushes a retargeted ad on me to the point of irritation.

And when a consumer says “no thanks,” as any good salesperson knows, that’s an opportunity to learn. No rarely means no forever. Marketing is a conversation, one with more than one exchange. Just because the first one isn’t a sale, doesn’t mean the next one (or the one after that) can’t be. Especially if you have the good graces to know when to pull back into the wings for a while.

Just a thought.


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12 thoughts on “On Retargeting: Fix The Conversation

  1. Craig says:

    Excellent suggestion.

  2. Martin says:

    agreed.. In addition, the more users click on the proposed “no thanks” button the better the targeting can become.

    The advertiser can add to the CTR stat a “no thanks” stat and then learn per user what they like and don’t like and better target the user with ads they are interested in.

  3. The retargeting vendors causing editorial consternation such as NYT & WSJ describe are committing two big party fouls:

    a) making no distinction whatsoever in their targeting between people who’ve looked at a product & bought it vs people who looked & didn’t buy. Of course people are going to be annoyed when they see ads following them around the web for the product they just bought. A good retargeting system should be able to understand consumer intent & pick in real-time which product to show, yet most systems simply uses custom Javascript to scrape the product(s) you view and store them in your cookie, with no thought given to buyers vs non-buyers. Here’s a wild thought: perhaps the user didn’t convert because they didn’t like the offer on merchant’s site – so another one would be better, and perhaps one that’s not already stored in user’s cookie.

    b) have no sense of frequency capping, leading to the annoying phenomenon of the consumer being shown the same ad 10 times, literally following them everywhere they go. Frequency capping is the most basic of display ad concepts, but perhaps when vendors charge on a CPC basis it results in a level of frequency that annoys customers (but makes the vendor lots of money).

  4. Hi John — Josh McFarland here, founder/CEO of TellApart — one of the two companies referenced in the NYT piece. I’ve always been a fan of your Conversational Mktg work. A couple of thoughts:

    1) Great idea on the “X” to turn-off that particular advertiser… some networks such as Google’s allow advertisers to use a “negative” cookie so as to prevent the targeted ad from showing. I believe you’ll see something similar develop out of the ongoing NAI efforts.

    Of course this (and the suggestion from Chris to not show ads for products already purchased) applies only to a small fraction of users who interact/buy; for the rest of the world, the ads need to continue to improve, period.

    2) Pursuant to that point, the real issue with the Zappos ads is not one of precision (the exact product you were looking at) but rather the fact that you are bombarded by hundreds of impressions over and over for days (weeks?) on end by their display ads provider. That alone is annoying and egregious.

    At TellApart, we believe that we can make ads that are actually useful and that this sort of displeasure can be mitigated by commitment to one idea: respect for the consumer. A big part of that is delivering an elegant experience with as few impressions as necessary to yield a click and a conversion.

    More here, for those interested: http://bit.ly/a0nPJD

  5. Seo Guru says:

    I agree with you on that x button. Ad companies should have that on sites as well. It is sometimes irritating to see sites with so many ads and less on substance. But can’t blame them, they need the income anyway.

  6. John says:

    Thanks Josh and all on this thread. Appreciate the good feedback.

  7. davidt says:

    Thanks John for the interesting thoughts.

    I wonder whether you assume a bit more trust than exists between the browser and the targeted advertiser. I would think many would wish to select, “get lost, leave me alone, I’ll sign up for targeted advertising if I want but otherwise this is a creepy violation of my privacy.”. Otherwise, saying maybe later is suggesting that this creepyness is okay.

    Just because cookies have been around for a while doesn’t mean discovering in such an explicit manner that your tastes are being communicated over the web more palatable. That they’ve been around for so long is more of an inside baseball thing unless people fully understand their implications and I doubt they do though with such experiences as those profiled and the WSJ pieces, awareness will increase. I mean, what percentage of users appreciate, John, your brilliant insight of so long ago of the “database of intentions” or how easily they could be identified along with all the illicit searches from their Google searches?

    Its not that advertisers are bad but that that except through certain configurations, their interests and the consumers interests aren’t necessarily the same and violating trust is far from out of the question for so many of them.

    What I would argue is if the advertisers want to avoid a big backlash, they should place the equivalent of an unsubscribe that should be present in any permission-based email message on the offending page. Instead of requiring the consumer to click a link and get off a list, why not have the list exit (not temporary) on the page displaying the item?

    I know advertisers are likely not to go for this even though from the consumer’s point of view its preferable. However it might behoove Google at long last to address some of the privacy concerns you’ve raised for so long. If they explained the value of the tracking info in bettering individual’s lives and asked for their signoff maybe they could transition people into thinking differently? And they are the logical leader on this sort of thing.

    BTW, you refer to the “Time” article at one point :).

  8. davidt says:

    Thanks John for the interesting thoughts.

    I wonder whether you assume a bit more trust than exists between the browser and the targeted advertiser. I would think many would wish to select, “get lost, leave me alone, I’ll sign up for targeted advertising if I want but otherwise this is a creepy violation of my privacy.”. Otherwise, saying maybe later is suggesting that this creepyness is okay.

    Just because cookies have been around for a while doesn’t mean discovering in such an explicit manner that your tastes are being communicated over the web more palatable. That they’ve been around for so long is more of an inside baseball thing unless people fully understand their implications and I doubt they do though with such experiences as those profiled and the WSJ pieces, awareness will increase. I mean, what percentage of users appreciate, John, your brilliant insight of so long ago of the “database of intentions” or how easily they could be identified along with all the illicit searches from their Google searches?

    Its not that advertisers are bad but that that except through certain configurations, their interests and the consumers interests aren’t necessarily the same and violating trust is far from out of the question for so many of them.

    What I would argue is if the advertisers want to avoid a big backlash, they should place the equivalent of an unsubscribe that should be present in any permission-based email message on the offending page. Instead of requiring the consumer to click a link and get off a list, why not have the list exit (not temporary) on the page displaying the item?

    I know advertisers are likely not to go for this even though from the consumer’s point of view its preferable. However it might behoove Google at long last to address some of the privacy concerns you’ve raised for so long. If they explained the value of the tracking info in bettering individual’s lives and asked for their signoff maybe they could transition people into thinking differently? And they are the logical leader on this sort of thing.

    BTW, you refer to the “Time” article at one point :).

  9. S2N Design says:

    Hulu does something similiar to this suggestion. They have a button at the top of their ads that says “is this ad relevant to you?” Unfortunately, it appears that even if you click “no” they will continue to show you the same ad.

  10. Kathryn says:

    Hi all, I’m Kathryn, marketing associate at Adroll.com. I am thrilled to see all the different points of view surfacing since the Times article about remarketing on Sunday. It’s important that consumers understand what a useful tool remarketing can be- getting ads about products and services you are actually interested in! Here at adroll.com, we install strict rules about how often ads and people can be served so we don’t overwhelm or exhaust shoppers online. Retargeting can be a crucial step in advertising, especially for small to medium- sized business with budgets that need the most reach for the buck. Moving forward, getting the word out about the benefits and opportunities of advancing marketing technologies will be pivotal to their success. Thanks for all the thoughts! Keep on rollin’.

  11. Dainius says:

    First link in the post is broken.