Today we have a face-off between Sam and Paddy. After many heated discussions in the office it seemed like it would make an interesting post to put both sides of the argument side by side on the blog. First, for those of you who are not familiar with what behavioral re-targeting is, here is a good graphic to illustrate it.
In a bit more detail, behavioral re-targeting is a system that serves adverts to a user based on their browsing history. It is usually based on them not completing a desired action, for example not buying a product from a retailer. The user will then be shown adverts from the retailer on various other websites in an effort to get them to return.
So my side of the argument is the opposite to Sam’s. I think this post may have stemmed from one line in our discussion when I said –
“I think its a genius idea”
From there we had a debate about the privacy issues and scenarios where this type of marketing is a bad thing. However my feelings were still the same, I think re-targeting is a good marketing method for both users and merchants. Here is why.
Why Re-targeting is good for Merchants
Lower overall number of impressions and more targeted ads mean a better click through rate. This leads to lower costs and therefore a high ROI for businesses.
Businesses can target a customer throughout the buying cycle but in particular when they are at the research stage. It is very esy to detect if a customer looked at certain products but decided not to buy them. In which case, re-targeting can be used to try and bring that customer back to the site whilst they are doing research on other websites.
This can work especially well for businesses who sell high value, highly durable products which a customer will probably spend quite a bit of time researching before pressing the buy button.
Another added advantage for merchants is the brand building that this type of activity can provide. If your brand appears to be everywhere online, then you’ll appear to be really pushing yourselves online and give the perception you’re massive.
Even if you lose the odd customer who gets fed up of your adverts or disables cookies as a result, you are going to make up for this many times over by the increased conversion rate of other customers. Many businesses have reported massively improved ROIs for re-targeting campaigns in comparison to other channels.
Why Re-Targeting is good for Users
This is much more important in my opinion, the benefits to a business are pretty clear and easy to measure. The discussion between Sam and myself stemmed from privacy issues for users so I wanted to address these.
No Personal Data is Collected
No matter where we go online, we see banners, adverts and pop-ups. I don’t tend to come across many websites that do not include some form of advertising, even at a bare minimum they’ll include Google AdSense. So if the web is jam packed full of adverts anyway, surely its better to have those adverts as targeted as possible to the user. Therefore a user will see adverts for stuff they are interested in rather than this kind of stuff -
Or even worse these type of ones…
Or is it just me that sees the second one?! D’oh!
Anyway the point is that we get annoyed seeing adverts which we’re not interested in and eventually we develop banner blindness. If however the adverts are by a website we are familiar with, even better – adverts for products we may want to buy, then thats surely better?
This type of advert is much more relevant to me after I’d been looking for a festival tent on the Go Outdoors website -
Where it can be abused…
Whilst I strongly believe that re-targeting is good. Like most marketing methods online, some businesses can push the limits and go over the top with this model. Here are some things that businesses should avoid when doing re-targeting.
Don’t consistently show the same products that were viewed
It can be a bit weird for a user if they see the exact same product they just saw on your website in an advert somewhere else. So try to include an advert that includes a range of related products. The Go Outdoors example above is a good example of this. There is nothing wrong with including the product a user has looked at, but mix it in with other closely related product.
Use Frequency Caps
To avoid users getting banner blindness, place a frequency cap on your adverts so that they aren’t consistently being shown your advert all across the web. This can get annoying and maybe cause them to opt out of seeing them.
Use Time Limit Caps
You have the ability to define how long you want a user to be shown your advert after they have visited your website. The decision on how long this lasts will depend on your product. But I’d still advise setting a limit so that a user isn’t consistently bombarded with your ads and can’t get away from you!
Try to vary the adverts both in size, design and products. Using the same advert over and over is a sure fire way to annoy a user and have them develop banner blindness. Design different banners based upon what they did on your site and use variations to keep things fresh.
Allow Customers to Opt-out
In Summary… (and why I’m right!)
Re-targeting is like many other online marketing techniques – go over the top and you’re going to annoy your customers and lower your ROI. However, if used properly, you can achieve a good ROI whilst keeping customers happy and not triggering alarms over privacy concerns.
It comes down to this – we all see ads across the internet every day. It makes for a better experience if these ads are targeted and relevant to us. No personal identity data is collected about you as a user – this isn’t Facebook!
Right, so I have not yet read Paddy’s version of this because I didn’t think it was really fair for the sake of argument to just rebut all of his points without him having the same opportunity. Perhaps we’ll carry that over into the comments if people really want to watch us fight it out more.
—————-ROUND 2 – FIGHT!——————
Issues with (overly) targeted advertising*
*Skip to the end for the TL:DR version
I feel violated and cheated… and I really want a Big Mac!
I think I first realised my true opposition to the targeting of my subconscious (read: subliminal advertising) after watching “Super Size Me” and then craving McDonald’s food for months afterwards. It was a truly inexplicable and irrational thought after watching such a horrible depiction of the fast food chain.
It takes a “genius” campaign to embed your product idea within someone’s mind (especially if it happens when you should be hating the product) but it is really disturbing when you find yourself buying something or supporting someone based on false facts. I want to be able to identify “how I got hooked” and know how trustworthy a site, channel, show, advertiser, or individual is before spending my time or money.
This sort of marketing is invasive and borders on morally deplorable
This, for me, highlights the reason I don’t click on PPC advertisements unless the meta-description ropes me in. I know that these sites or products (if they aren’t ranking naturally) have not recieved the sorts of links or “votes of approval” necessary to be deemed reliable products. There are exceptions to this rule and ever site is “new” at some point, but I’ll let people who don’t understand PPC be the guinea pigs on these products.
I don’t have issue with the conscious decision to support a company and buy their products because I like what they do. I like companies with good Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) campaigns. I would gladly buy Old Spice deodorant (at least to try) because I thought there campaign was hilarious- and it didn’t try to sell me too hard on the thousands of scantily clad women I’d be fending off (unlike some of their competitors). Whilst I think “bad SEO” is not worth doing and obnxious from a user’s perspective, I think the same applies for “bad advertising.”
Supply and demand exists so that we may weigh up any number of factors for a product and decide for ourselves what it is we want to buy. We have become too lazy and too impatient to do things the right way and I believe we are less happy for it.
So, What’s my Point?
If I don’t like a product, I want the ability to say “no” (without having to spend 30 minutes trying to find the source of the campaign and get it off my browser/cleared from my cookies).
If I have a pop-up window I can click out of it (or get a better spam-protection software).
If I don’t like a print advertisement I can turn the page, or rip out the advert.
Hell, even email spam (usually) lets me remove myself from a list, unsubscribe, delete the message without reading it, etc.
The bottom line is, I can control these things. I choose (to a certain degree anyways) whether or not I let these things in. All of these other mediums usually must past some sort of Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) or some other equivalent. However, these rules don’t seem to apply and business ethics seem to go out the window to a certain extent when we’re talking about advertising on the web. And things have gotten worse, not better.
Yeah, it’s slightly less annoying not having to foce-quit my browser because of too many pop-ups (NSFW- Language & verbal references to internet filth) but at least when I got those sorts of ads I knew I was on spammy sites (only by accident of course) and I knew not to return. Now if I accidentally stumble upon an NSFW site I risk the possibility of similar adverts targeting me when I’m in a meeting with my boss, pitching to a potential client, or trying to show my Mom a cute video about puppies.
The “Ayes” Have it!
So, after debating this a bit with Tom and Paddy I was a bit concerned that I had completely lost my mind. Both argued that they would rather “targeted” advertisements than random ones and I agree to a certain level. However, where’s the off switch? At a certain point I would like the ability to tell an advertiser “you’ve spent enough money on me, but I bought the tent from someone else, I don’t want a $£@*!$% tent anymore.”
Variety is the spice of life and just because ONE time, while doing a search for a client, or by accidentally clicking on an advert, I don’t want to have pop-ups and banner ads pointing to inappropriate sites. I don’t want to be followed around and harassed. And, according to a recent poll conducted as part of an article written by the Wall Street Journal I am not alone in this.
It’s quite obvious that the VAST and overwhelming majority of those that have participated in this poll are on board with me. Of course it is not a statistically significant poll, but the article was obviously quite convincing.
Where to Draw the Line? Global/Browser Privacy Settings, Please!
I don’t personally have a problem with being targeted on Facebook based upon my age, location, or any other information I have provided to this particular software. I have made a choice to visit this page, I am logged in to this site, and I have freely provided this information to THIS particular web application.
I do, however, take serious issue with having a single query string that can identify me as a 26-year-old male from London, my favourite films, my favourite type of food, what time I typically scour the underworld of the internet and use this information to “target” (i.e. AGAINST) me as I try to carry out my job- which is to be on the internet. I try to avoid advertisements where possible.
If you want me to buy your product, do something good, make a better product, hell make a better advertisement. Convince me your shoes can make me walk on water, make me laugh, draw pretty pictures, find someone that I trust to endorse your product. But, please, don’t trick me and stop following me around for Pete’s sake.
I’m no longer looking for free singles in my area so let it rest. Duh, haven’t you checked my Facebook status lately?
Here are the things I’m comfortable sharing when “logged in” to a site or application: Any information included in my PUBLIC profile and any information I have shared voluntarily with THIS site (e.g. I am quite happy for Amazon to try and suggest books based upon books I’ve purchased).
Here’s the information I’m comfortable sharing with advertisers for general targeting purposes: I’m between 18-35 years old. I currently live in London. I am male.
And here is information advertisers use that I do NOT want used in targeted advertising: My ability to spell, where I am at any given time, every single site I’ve visited, my favorite films, my income, my sexual preference, my medical history/concerns. For everything else I’m afraid you’re going to have to get me to try/buy your product the old fashioned way.
If people like these targeted advertisements it’s not for me to say they can’t have them, I’d just like the opportunity to say “no thank you” like I do when the telemarketers ring to sell me something I don’t want anymore and to be able to say “please take me off your targeted list, thanks!”
TL:DR Cold Hard Facts and Summary (Why I Am Right)
According to the Wall Street Jounral article I mentioned:
- the top 50 websites (in the US) install (on average) 64 pieces of tracking technology onto the computer of each visitor (without warning in most cases)
- targeting is no longer limited to cookies
- many of these “tools surreptitiously re-spawn themselves even after users delete them
- the profiles these tools create are traded as commodities (think: oil, gold, “personal information index”)
- there are already over 100 middlemen/tracking companies competing to sell your details
- “innocuous” sites such as Dictionary.com will generate a download of 223 files per visit to track web use
- the most offensive of this type of advertising installs third party tracking files that will follow you around to “build a robust profile” (particularly heinous is monitoring searches of health related illness and targeting ads- perfect for when you need a hemmarhoid cream in the middle of a boardroom presentation)
Tracking technology has already spiraled out of control and is only going further. I’m all for freedoms on the internet but I believe the control over what is actually viewed (rather than available to be viewed) should be controlled by the user. If you don’t want to see a site or a products advertisements you should be able to say so. People shouldn’t be “tricked” into buying a product and it should be fairly straightforward to ask for the harassment to stop (e.g. a small box reading “do not display ads for this site/product/agency”).
Getting your product in front of the right people is absolutely key, but if you get your product in front of someone influential and do so by harassment, prepare for a serious reputation issue.
It’s not that I’m opposed to targeting advertisements in principle, it just seems as though there should be a bit more control given to the user. It seems unfair and immoral that someone else sell my personal information that I never granted them the right to view, let alone “own” (tacitly or otherwise) and make it almost impossible to opt-out.
Targeted advertising is not inherently wrong, and some people love it, but some people don’t and there needs to be an easy way to change the settings or opt-out.
Tom Critchlow Tom Critchlow is VP Operations for the NYC office, living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan. Fiercely curious about most things and passionate about everything.