Is Advertising Creepy?

November 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Have you ever looked for a new jacket on gap.com but decided to buy it either when it goes on sale or you have a coupon?  The next time you are online did you notice an ad with that exact coat you last looked at following you around everywhere as if the Gap had a salesperson following you around.

“For days or weeks, every site I went to seemed to be showing me ads for that jacket,” said Ms. Matlin, a mother of two from Montreal. “It is a pretty clever marketing tool. But it’s a little creepy, especially if you don’t know what’s going on.”

People have grown accustomed to being tracked online and shown ads for categories of products they have shown interest in, be it tennis or bank loans.

Increasingly, however, the ads tailored to them are for specific products that they have perused online. While the technique, which the ad industry calls personalized retargeting or remarketing, is not new, it is becoming more popular.  Retargeting since it first launch has become very “smart” which is causing people to feel as if they are being watched as they navigate online.

In the digital advertising business, this form of highly personalized marketing is being hailed as the latest breakthrough because the objective is to show consumers the right ad at the right time.  With more consumers skeptical about their privacy, the technique is raising a new the threat of industry regulation.

Retargeting, however, relies on a form of online tracking that has been around for years and is not particularly intrusive. Retargeting programs typically use small text files called cookies that are exchanged when a web browser visits a site. Cookies are used by virtually all commercial Web sites for various purposes, including advertising, keeping users signed in and customizing content.

In remarketing, when a person visits an e-commerce site and looks at say, a Gucci satchel on eBags.com, a cookie is placed into that person’s browser, linking it with the handbag. When that person, or someone using the same computer, visits another site, the advertising system creates an ad for that has that very purse on it.

Google began testing this technique in 2009, calling it remarketing to promote a customized messages like special offers or discounts being sent to users. In March, Google made the service available to all advertisers on its AdWords network.

For Google, remarketing is a more specific form of behavioral targeting, the practice under which a person who has visited NBA.com that user may be tagged as a basketball fan and later will be shown ads for related merchandise.  From an advertisers perspective retargeting is a very appealing tactic as their ad will have a higher ROI if it is displayed to a person who they know something about vs. displaying to a person that the advertiser has no behavior information on.

I think one way to avoid the “creepy” factor is to enforce frequency caps.  I think if a user sees the ads 2 – 3 more times following the initial interest that is enough to get the message across and avoids the feeling that there is a salesperson following you around the web.

 

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