Between the Streams: Why I Hate Retargeting
  • WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2014

  • Posted by: David Moffly

No music theme here — just a rant on being relentlessly hunted on the web.

Do you know what retargeting is? I bet you don't but you are most certainly being retargeted. So let's break it down. Have you ever gone to Amazon or Ebay and look at an item to purchase and either you don't find what you were looking for or decide not to buy the item for any number of good reasons? You don't like it, it's not the right color, it's too expensive — Whatever! But suddenly this item begins following your every move and click. Like an insufferable telemarketer, the item relentlessly plagues your web activity as it appears in Amazon ads on every site visited for the next several days or weeks offering you the exact same item you chose not to purchase.

Data scientists and behaviorists have published impressive white papers that this type of advertising can result in higher click rates and in therefore increased sales. Every site I know, including our own, participates in retargeting in some form or fashion. Google's Adsense (used by millions of small sites) is a massive supplier of this advertising inventory.

Retargeting goes into the very large category that is "Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should" on the web. Really folks — I passed on that great sweater at LL Bean and those snazzy kicks on Zappos. Showing me ads for things I already decided not to do or buy on every other site I visit does nothing more than creep me out. I made a purchasing decision when I was on that page and didn't buy the item; peppering me ad nauseum after the fact isn't going to change the decision. Maybe it's just me and this tactic works much better with 20-something women than cranky, middle age guys. This absurdity persists even when you do buy the product. I'm currently receiving a retargeted ad for a $12 item that I purchased today. What am I supposed to do here — buy a second replacement Ethernet card just in case the first doesn't make it through the mail? Perhaps this is why women have so many pairs of shoes...

This whole model smacks of desperation.

- Publishers are hungry for revenue to support their businesses so they create tons of display inventory in the hope of making enough money to keep the lights on (Programmatic ad buying has caused a race to the bottom in Display Ad rates).

- Web retailers need to place ads to drive sales, an age old formula. They have bought into retargeting on a grand scale since the vast amount of these ads are based on pay-per-click they get massive amounts of branded display inventory fundamentally for free. 98 percent of all web retailers' traffic leaves without purchasing anything, getting a fraction of these people to return translates into real dollars.

- The Ad Networks acting as intermediaries collect vast amounts of data on us all and sell retargeting to the retailers as the most efficient way to increase sales and convert potential leads. The Ad Networks and their Data Brokers make the NSA look like amateurs as they collect information on you and your online behavior in a completely un-regulated manner. It's a good bet that data brokers know more about your behavior than your mother.

Maybe my favorite sitcom came on and I was distracted by the important purchase of new shoes from Zappos. Do I need to be constantly reminded that they exist? You the consumer are not the winner here — you are faced with more and more ads on most commercial sites that keep adding ad units in hopes of generating revenue to survive. At some point, this house of cards comes crashing down and the model changes — but when?

Here are just a few examples of who is retargeting me right now:

ZocDoc.com — Went to the site to look up physician references. Never going back

Yume.com — We use them as a tech provider. A perfect example of wasted dollars...we are already their customer

Disruptyourpain.com — Clicked through to this site after a Google search on knee replacement now the most relentless along with Yume of the retargeters.

Amazon.com — Trying to get me to purchase yet another network card

Portablepartitions.com — We are thinking of moving offices to a cool new warehouse space and looked here for space dividing ideas. Not going back

Dell.com — Looked at PC's for my partner

BestBuy.com — Same as above

And the list goes on. So who's haunting you???

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