Retargeting: Creepy or Cool?

Is retargeting creepy or cool? First of all, let’s define retargeting for the uninitiated. The company “Retargeter” (which sells complex retargeting solutions) defines it as “a form of online advertising that can help you keep your brand in front of bounced traffic after they leave your website.” Most people understand it best this way: retargeting is the pair of shoes that follows you around the internet.

You know how it goes… you were scoping out those Nike Airs in neon blue, and now they are showing up next to your email inbox, on Facebook, or anywhere else that allows banner ads. EVERY BUSINESS with half a marketing brain uses retargeting. Why? Because only about 2% of people convert to some form of purchase when they view your website, so you’ve got that other 98% that you are trying to convert to buyers. And retargeting is really easy to setup. You drop a small snippet of code on your website, and BAM, you start acquiring a pool of qualified visitors that you can show your ads to all over the web.

That’s a HUGE retargeting pool.

Look at this example of retargetus maximus below. I need only visit one website to be retargeted by 4 companies I had visited in recent history! UnderArmour, Amazon for my Nikes, OvernightPrints.com, and Quiksilver. Apparently, I am back to school shopping, and going to send my friends a postcard about all the unfashionable stuff I bought (Kidding! There isn’t a chance I’d have bought those all white Nikes… I’m not a male nurse). (Side note: this is a sort of hilarious idea).

example of retargeting
Greg, meet your likely suitors.

So, retargeting is awesome for advertisers because they know I’m a pretty qualified prospect and more likely than the Average Joe to buy their stuff. BUT (and this is a Kardashian-sized “but”), there’s a few things the advertiser doesn’t know that makes the advertising somewhat stupid. First of all, I bought those Nikes already, but in a different color and from a local shoe shop. I was just looking at the customer reviews. Second, I never looked at backpacks on UnderArmour. Why show me those? Third, I bought shirts at Quiksilver about 45 days ago. Layoff pal! I never looked at those particular shirts anyways. And Overnightprints.com? Well, they are just lucky that I am still a viable customer for them, so +1 for them, I guess.

Quick side story, retargeting got more than creepy last Christmas. I didn’t realize it until too late, but all the things I had been looking to buy my wife for Christmas were plastered all over our shared computer’s browser. I didn’t realize until a week or so later. I’m sure she knew all of her gifts by the actual day we opened presents.

In summary, my verdict would be this. Retargeting is cool, and effective, for advertisers, but creepy/annoying for users when not properly used.

A few basic tips for advertisers to make retargeting less creepy:

  1. Limit the daily impressions. Maybe start at 3 per visitor.
  2. Limit the duration. Unless you are selling a product with a long purchase cycle, stop advertising after 30 days. And I’d recommend really cutting back impressions after a few days. It’s called throttle. Use it.
  3. Vary the advertising, extra points for varying by time in purchase cycle. I.e. show me the product for 3 days, then days 4 -30 show me more brand/content-oriented ads.

Let’s take a look one more time at the outfit I could have bought! Yikes.