Is re-targeting, data heaven or just plain creepy?

by Tony Fannin, President, BE Branded  |

Re-targeting. That’s what is a dominate feature on many web sites. What is re-targeting? It’s when you visit a site and shop for a product and view it online. For the days that follow, marketers follow you and serve up banner ads that feature that very product or similar products you just searched for or looked at. Even without buying. To many consumers, and even to us, that’s kind of creepy. It’s like internet stalking. This is also what Google, Facebook, and other search technology has turned the web into.

The question is, does this turn customers off from visiting a web site or a product? Many consumers find this annoying as well as creepy. Almost all major retailers do this, especially e-retailers. Even Zappos engages in re-targeting. The question that is missing is, “How will this make my customers feel?” I surely don’t want my brand to be associated with stalking. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. This is a concept that most of the digital world forgets. They get so caught up in their data wizardry and all the cool things they can do with it, most completely don’t even consider the human element of should they be doing what they are doing because of how it would make their customers/users feel. This is the core blind spot of depending and leveraging data like religion. It makes you lose site of what’s important and what is right.

As a marketing firm, I’m all about trying to understanding my customers in a deep way, but there should be “moral” limits to what I do what that information. In this digital world, we can’t forget the human element in all this. We are still selling to people who are not robots or machines. They are emotion based, both logical and illogical. In the end, does re-targeting show a lack of respect to your customers? In a way yes. You are disrespecting their decision to not buy and over the next few days, try to keep “shoving” your ad everywhere they go online. It would be as if you politely told a salesperson you didn’t want to buy from them right now and they keep showing up at your office or home trying to sell you the very same thing you said no to from the beginning. Eventually, you get irritated at them, slam the door, and refuse to ever speak with them again. Then your feelings about the company they represent are forever banned from your heart and mind. Their brand is permanently on your “do not contact” list.

Consumers do bear a part of the blame by freely giving their personal information online to almost any web site or search engine. This, in a affect, gives these marketers permission to contact you and follow you. Though we give our real people we meet our contact information, we don’t expect them to follow us or hound us everywhere we turn. It is understood they would use contact us judiciously and with courtesy. No stalking.

Be careful when re-targeting. You could not only be creeping your customer out, but eventually they get angry enough with your brand, they will band you from their lives forever.

About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

3 Responses to “Is re-targeting, data heaven or just plain creepy?”

  1. Hi Tony,
    Interesting post! I never really thought about the “moral aspects” of targeting. I may not fully agree with your position, but I understand where your scepticism comes from.
    At the end of the day, re-targeting will not go away. We have the data, we have the technology; marketers will apply it unless they notice a negative effect.
    Consumers should be given clear opt-out opportunities on marketers websites so they don’t get “stalked”. What I am not sure about is whether they are really creeped out when they’re exposed to what a marketer calls “relevant ads”. Actually don’t think so…

    • Luc,
      Thank you for taking time to read and reply to my post. You are correct in that re-targeting is here to stay. To me, it does come down to using technology and data in a “respectful” and responsible way. Like most things, it can be used for evil or good, there is no inherent good or evil in the technology or data.

      In response to the “creeping out” part, I agree, I haven’t put it through accepted research and scientific rigor. The insight is coming from our general research on several projects for clients. Though we weren’t looking for this effect, it had just come up through conversation with customers. So, I am definitely making an anecdotal reference based on my experiences. I’m also not suggesting it’s a strong “creepy” feeling, but more of a twinge of uneasiness.

      I agree the opt-in needs to be more prominent, in fact, I believe it should be the default setting, not the optional setting.


  1. The trouble with agency DSPs – Part 2 | The other agency guy - July 24, 2011

    […] for advertisers, even though some think it’s a “creepy” thing. There is an interesting post about the subject by be branded, an interesting blog about integrated marketing and branding… Well – […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: