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Online ad retargeting is a very powerful concept that, in the wrong hands, can not only infuriate your prospective customers but also threatens the entire cookie-fueled display advertising market.

We've all been the victim of this: you look at a pair of pink, fluffy handcuffs on BondageMaster.com and for the next three months, the very same handcuffs appear on almost every other site you visit. Spooky.

I'm the victim of exactly this kind of cyber-stalking right now, at the hands of Fuze Meeting, the nothing-if-not-tireless web meeting service. Here's what's happening and how you can avoid it:

We were looking for a new web conferencing service for Velocity and came across Fuze. Looked interesting so we checked it out. In fact, we signed up for a year. Big mistake.

Even though we've bought the damn service, we're now all being followed all over the web with Fuze Meeting banners and boxes and MPUs. Not just on a few sites: everywhere. It's banner bullying.

And not just for a few weeks. Seemingly forever.

Worse than this: the clients we invite to our Fuze-hosted meetings are also subjected to the Stasi treatment. So essentially we've become a recuriting arm for this Hydra-headed marketing beast.

That's more than embarrassing, it's unethical, who gave Fuze permission to look in on our meetings and drop a cookie on our guests?

I've actually complained to Fuze, via customer support and direct to the marketing department. No reply. Just hundreds more ad impressions. (Yes, I can opt out of the Google targeting service -- but I actually don't want to. I LIKE relevant, targeted ads. I just don't like Hannibal bloody Lecter following me everywhere I click).

It's more than annoying, it's stupid. Not only is Fuze wasting money throwing impressions at someone who has already bought, it's also serving far, far too many impressions to a single prospect.

The concept that the Fuze team (and any other marketer considering retargeting) needs to discover is: Frequency Capping, simply putting a ceiling on the number of impressions you serve to any one prospect in a given time. Makes sense. And, according to Robin Davies of Mediaplex, implementing this simple rule in your ad server can dramatically increase the ROI of your display ad campaign.

The entire display ad market depends on the consumer's willingness to accept our cookies. If marketers abuse the privilege, the industry risks breaking this pact. Retargeting is already a bit off-putting to many online shoppers. It feels intrusive. But pushed to its limits, retargeting could easily trigger an anti-cookie law that would set online marketing back to the dial-up days. And we'd deserve it.

Lesson for the day: Don't retarget people who have already bought. If you're a hosted app, don't cookie people your customers invited in to your domain. And if you're a high-volume advertiser, put a frequency cap on it.

Doug Kessler

Published 25 May, 2011 by Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler is a founder and Creative Director of B2B marketing agency Velocity and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

19 more posts from this author

Comments (22)

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Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

Very good post Doug - so many people have similar stories of being stalking around the internet by pairs of trousers & frying pans. I'm currently being stalked by a Customer Retention software provider (hah!).

As you say, it's even worse when you're already bought the product - why marketers haven't mapped out the process enough to expand the campaign into this scenario is beyond me.

Also - BondageMaster.com (like any adult site), probably wouldn't be allowed onto the retargetting networks. If we were, we'd do it properly :-)

over 5 years ago

Pauline Randall

Pauline Randall, Director at Florizel Media

I was recently looking for software to manage academic references and found myself stalked by several providers. It is incredibly annoying when it reaches stalking proportions and ends up having the opposite effect than the advertiser actually wants.

Careful re-targeting is good as that often reminds me of something I was looking at but had forgotten where to find it but it doesn't take much to slip over into hassling.

over 5 years ago

Saman Mansourpour

Saman Mansourpour, Partner at TheAgency

Re-targeting is certainly getting bad press these days. A number of brands have refused to get involved as the damage to the brand is deemed greater than the sales they generate.

Having said that, if the timing is right and the message is relevant, then people are more than happy to consider the offer. The problem with tagging is that it doesn't actually tell you either of these things.

over 5 years ago

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Wayne Blodwell

At Global Digital Markets we have a retargeting offering, and we always make the point when discussing retargeting that there are frequencies in which it becomes 'brand damaging'.

From a Retargeting companies position - retargeting volumes are small, there aren't a whole host of users you can go after with the specific cookies, and if you're the retargeting comapany you make more money the more you spend!

At GDM we have an excellent White Paper on users behaviour in retargeting - http://www.globaldigitalmarkets.com/blog/user-behaviour-in-retargeting/ . Would love to hear other peoples thoughts, as retargeting is SUCH a big piece of the online display pie now - it just needs to be managed better.

over 5 years ago

Janak Mistry

Janak Mistry, Online Marketing Specialist at npower

Frequency capping is important and they need to stop targetting people who have already purchased the item. It seems that re-targetting just happens to spew back to you what you have been looking at especially in the retailing sector who do it frequently using technoligies like criteo.

With privacy compliance and new rule over permmission based cookie acceptance, the long term future of retargeting in it's current format is in doubt.

over 5 years ago

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Katie

Like you say, these guys are throwing their money down the drain, remarketing is meant for visitors that Didn't convert.

Unfortunately misusing remarketing seems to be a recurring problem, my boss was stalked by James Caan http://www.hallam.biz/blog/2011/01/james-caan-is-stalking-me-remarketing-gone-scary.html

As was Dave Naylor http://www.davidnaylor.co.uk/james-caans-total-business-mastery.html

And several others also came out of the wood work to complain about being stalked by the dragon.

Maybe Google needs its own internal frequency capping to prevent spamming the system?

over 5 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

Can't say I've personally been in the position of being stalked by a pair of pink anything I've looked at online; however the far worse consequence is where a computer is also used by minors

Regardless of what floats your boat when shopping online, your kids shouldn't find out and it is this example which underlines the EU Privacy Directive on tracking cookies... if BondageMaster.com had prompted you with a cookie and stated it may target you when you leave the site you no doubt will have rejected it...

over 5 years ago

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Candy Duarte, Marketing Events Manager at MonetateEnterprise

Ensuring customers who purchased do not see the same products they just bought is vital for brand experience. At Criteo, we enable clients to segment customers who have already made a purchase, and if they choose, show them complementary products. This allows advertisers to continue to reward loyal customers with additional value whether that be through offers/discounts or additional products. For example, a customer who bought a flight to New York can be shown hotel offers or discount tickets for Broadway.

When it comes to the issue of frequency capping, the placement, creative and products displayed are optimised by Criteo to achieve the highest click-through rate and conversion-to-sale which means the user only gets shown ads and at the frequency which they are likely to interact with. This is a crucial factor to ensure users continue to have a positive brand experience across the web. If Criteo determines the user is unlikely to interact with the advertising or purchase, it does not show an ad. Positive brand experience means greater response rates. Because of this, Criteo continues to invest substantially in our creative. Our recently launched Generation 2 banners have proven this with up to 30% increases in CTRs.

We’re working in an industry where intelligent technology continues to enable consumers to experience a more relevant and real-time web. Undoubtedly, this expectation is now being applied to advertising. The ability to offer consumers advertising that matches their content and browsing experiences is therefore vital if advertisers want to maximise ROI.

Please get in touch if you have any questions or would like further information about our services.

Mihiri Bonney
UK Marketing Manager, Criteo
m.bonney@criteo.com

over 5 years ago

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Rupert Staines, Managing Director at RadiumOne

What still baffles me is why brands still chase people after the purchase has been made. Surely, this is a redundant operation, as you’ve already made your decision and, if the service is good (unlike Doug’s experience), you would come back of your own volition. Although retargeting has its value, surely we need to be targeting consumers before the purchase has been made, if possible.

It’s the reason why we have developed a ShareGraph, which, without storing any personal data, tracks connections, not visits to websites. Based on the recommendations that consumers within their own personal networks and those of their friends, a profile can be built for them. As a result, a user can be reached before they have made a purchase, not after.

The whole internet is a social network now. It’s not just the domain of the walled gardens of Facebook et al. The ability to track connections across the web is what is going to make the process a whole lot slicker, and should hopefully help to ease Doug’s current frustrations!

Rupert Staines, RadiumOne

over 5 years ago

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Nichola Finan

As ever it was thus, it only takes one bad apple..... But the re-targeting proposition is a sound one, in principle - good to see Criteo's response, and it would also be great to hear from Google, Struq and the like on this topic. We also have to be smart here, and appreciate that there is heightened sensitivity around this methodology at present - probably better to rein in now, and let consumer and client understanding mature catch up with reality.

over 5 years ago

Peter Bordes

Peter Bordes, CEO & Founder at oneQube

it getting to be a little creepy and ridiculous with all the retargeting. i have ads following me for weeks which are annoying and certainly cant be optimal use of the inventory..

over 5 years ago

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Drea Solan

The banner retargeting was quite a phenomenon out of the gate. I had vendors calling me complimenting me on our company's outreach - they were initially impressed and shared stories of "you know, I was on site XYZ and all of a sudden there it was, a banner from your site!". By now, most of the folks have caught on. Exposing adult site visitation or not, the retargeting has the ability to expose more innocent surprise gifting efforts. One's spouse might gather upon glancing at your screen that you are going to buy her that dress from her favorite store for her birthday next week after all!

over 5 years ago

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Sam Barnett

At Struq we build the Ad Pad, to give users the ability to control their online ad experiences.

Within the ad, users can “like” or “remove” products, remove brands they don’t want to see ads from, and opt out of personalised ads all within the ad itself.

You can try it out here: www.struq.com/demo/adpad.html

over 5 years ago

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Alex Timlin

Great thread, there is most definitely such a thing as too much segmentation.

Businesses who have long-term sustainable ad revenues put themselves in a customers shoes.

@Mihiri and the team at Criteo have done some great work with some of our clients on banner ad's and retargeting.

No segmentation is worse than some segmentation but cyber stalking damages a brand and the efficacy of the website hosting the banner, it's not just the responsibility of the network and the brand but also the partner websites hosting the banner themselves.

More visibility into unique impressions and what's being offered up to a customer means we're all singing from the same hymn sheets.

Conversions are great but a sustainable marketing programme needs to look at the pro's and con's through some frequency modelling.

over 5 years ago

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John Kimbell

Technology is all very well, but this issue can only really be addressed by planners/buyers/advertisers better understanding the nuances of re-targeting and working closer with the vendors to ensure campaigns are set up and run properly. Frequency Capping will help but is only part of the story - exclusion pixels should be implemented to 'de-tag' people if they purchase. In our experience, vendors/campaigns do need to be policed to ensure that campaigns are implemented properly because at the end of the day the vendors are out to maximise their revenue and won't always necessarily be forthcoming with options that could see an Insertion Order not being as big as they'd like.

over 5 years ago

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Laurent Gibb

At MyThings we firmly believe in respecting Advertiser brands, user experience and enforcing proper capping as standard. This is what we call our recency, decency and frequency guarantee, a commitment we make to all of our clients.

When we speak to new clients we are constantly hearing about poor past experiences and worry that users will get spammed and the resulting brand damage.

Whilst our platform offers a flexible business model (CPA, CPC, CPMa) the majority of our clients opt for CPA which dictates that we must be very careful with capping and always stop retargeting users once a purchase is complete.
But since our optimisation engine was originally built for CPA personalised retargeting, and driving sales not clicks, even the CPC campaigns adhere to the strictest capping rules.

We do offer the option for advertisers to retarget users who have already purchased to up-sell products but this is not turned on by default and we give full control to each advertiser as to whether or not they want to do this.

All of our banners also have opt out to make sure that user control is maintained at all times.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch for further information.

Laurent Gibb
VP Sales and Business Development
lg@mythings.com

over 5 years ago

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Lane Gilbert

Do you hold your site sponsors to the same high standards you've outlined here? If so, perhaps you can let us know how that process works.

over 5 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

UPDATE

Six months after posting this and Fuze Meeting is STILL stalking me, my colleagues and our clients all over the web.

The only way out is to opt out of Google's retargeting service (I don't want to do that -- most marketers use it wisely and I actually LIKE relevant ads).

I like the way Struq allows you to opt out of any specific advertiser instead of the whole service.
And I like the idea of exclusion pixel, John.

almost 5 years ago

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Arrivu Jacob

At first when I heard about it, I thought re-targeting is a cool concept. Today, I start get irritated by the same advertisement displayed everywhere I go. Worse is the entire page is only showing the same advertisement. Example, one of website I visit have total of four location for adverts. Two of it showing the same advertisement. The same advertisement is everywhere I go. The truth is I love advertisement. I do find some interesting products and sites through advertisement. I prefer varieties from different advertiser. Not the same guy everywhere I go.

over 4 years ago

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SteroidS

I was recently looking for software to manage academic references and found myself stalked by several providers. It is incredibly annoying when it reaches stalking proportions and ends up having the opposite effect than the advertiser actually wants.

Careful re-targeting is good as that often reminds me of something I was looking at but had forgotten where to find it but it doesn't take much to slip over into hassling.

over 4 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Exactly how I feel, Arrivu and SteroidS (love the name -- performance enhancing marketing?)

Retargeting is a great idea but when it's so clumcily excuted it just annoys.

If you looked for an academic reference management tool and got eth same ad over and over, it's a waste. It's just lazy.

Why not offer a piece of content, then a different piece of content, then an offer or webinar invitation... The advertiser should grope around to find a hook that will get you to re-engage. Not just spam the hell out of you.

BTW - FUZE finally stopped stalking me. They must have spent a hell of a lot on me -- and I'm already a customer! (The ads weren't upselling, they just didn't know I'm already on board).

over 4 years ago

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Christy

I know exactly how you feel! I just sent off a "Cease and Desist" letter to an online store, that's following me so closely, I wonder if they haven't taken up residence in my home as well. I didn't sign up for anything, they are doing this totally by cataloging my I.P. address.

It's maddening, and seems like it should be illegal. I feel like they're Peeping Toms, and I "know" that's a criminal act. Gah!

about 4 years ago

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