Retargeting has run amok. Here are some ways for advertisers, ad networks, and consumers to all get what they want.
Luckily, my wife was not looking over my shoulder the past three weeks after I went online jewelry shopping. She'd have seen ads for the necklace I'm going to get her!
Retargeting - it's a powerful tool. But I'd like to float an idea that'll make it much more powerful: please, please don't make me look at your ad again. It's a simple suggestion - but first, a quick review of retargeting.
An ad network watches you surf across multiple e-commerce sites, looking at vacations, shoes, books, or even necklaces. It sees that you are interested in one particular destination, style, author, or design and sells that expressed interest to one of their advertisers who wants to sell that trip, pair, tome, or bling.
All you know from your side of the screen is that one or two vendors out there are having sales on just the thing you were looking at. Magic! Until the magic becomes as annoying as a "wardrobe consultant" following you around a store telling you what you should buy. "I'm just looking!" is a legitimate answer and one that would allow the bored, pesky, or just hungry sales person to find a better prospective client to glom on to.
The "Just Looking" Button
I'd advocate a campaign-specific opt out; a button on each ad (be it banner, pop-up, fold down, or inflatable) that lets me declare, "No - I really don't want it." One click and I'm free from seeing the same offer everywhere I turn, free of that creepy feeling of being followed around, free to be served up other items that actually interest me.
The advertiser benefits from this push button freedom even more than I. They can save the money they would have spent on repeatedly showing me their ads. They can wander off in search of greener pastures while getting a specific response from me indicating my disinclination to buy.
They save money, I keep my sanity, and the ad network learns that much more about me that they can then use for targeting. Win-win-win.
The Industry Effort to Self-Regulate
The Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising is a conglomeration of online advertising associations trying to stay ahead of government regulation. It is trying to educate the public and offer a link to the Network Advertising Initiative's Opt-out Tool. It doesn't give consumers the level of control or the advertisers the feedback I propose, but it's a start.
The Management Perspective
Why is something as tactical as an opt-out button important to management? It's a local expression of a global philosophy about the use of data in marketing. It's a reminder that the laws of unexpected consequences will always bite you in the rear and that customer centricity will always pat you on the back. It is always better to collect and use data for your customers rather than about them. It is always better to remember that you can harm your brand through overexposure and can shine in the eyes of customers if you are available but not omnipresent.
If you are willing to look at your sales cycle from the buying side - through customer-colored glasses - then the data you collect, the numbers you crunch, and the insights you derive from your analytics will serve your customers as well as your shareholders.
And please - don't tell my wife about the necklace. It's a surprise.
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Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.
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