Thursday, March 28, 2013

When It Feels Like Stalking

They call it remarketing. Some call it retargeting. My own experience is it feels a lot like stalking. Which is what makes it creepy. 

This is what I'm talking about. 

Say you are window shopping on the web. It's a fun pastime. Something you can do in your pajamas while sipping on a glass of Chardonnay. If you use Pinterest, you might even pin those new skinny boot jeans you've been eyeing on your Pinterest page. But you don't buy them. 

That company is disappointed you didn't pony up your credit card just yet. They want you to come back and finish up that transaction. 

This is where the stalking starts. If that company is employing remarketing, they have hidden a little snippet of code, invisible to the untrained eye, that picked up on what you were doing and will now track you all over the web. Which basically means their ads will start showing up on other websites until either you come back and make a purchase or the time on the cookie runs out.

At first you may not notice. At first you may think that company is just running a big ol' campaign and spending a lot of money online. 

Until you notice the ads showing up in places that just don't make sense. Like here.

Or here.

It becomes positively jarring. Like you are being stalked. And who wants to be stalked? Stalking is creepy. It's an invasion of privacy. It makes one feel unsafe.

If you are me and you teach this stuff, the light goes off about now. You realize that this is a remarketing effort.  You know if you go in and clean your browser of cookies you can make it go away. Or you can go back and buy those skinny jeans. But you know you. You are not about to pay retail for them. Plus you're a researcher, so you don't. Not just yet. You want to see just how many more crazy websites this ad is going to pop up on. And it is the same ad. Again and again.

Now let me say that I've been a fan of Rebecca Minkoff since the first time I spotted one of her handbags in a boutique on Columbus Avenue and she was not as famous and successful as she is today. I have a huge respect for the brand and what the company has grown into. But as I continued to let those cookies do their thing I questioned my opinion.

Their ads started to look cheap, as though the company was going through troubles and had resorted to buying remnant ads at rock bottom prices. I didn't like seeing it wherever I went on the web. Yes, it makes sense on The New York Times site in the Style section, but not in the middle of a tutorial on how to make an Infographic. It was annoying. It did not make me want to go back and buy anything from the company. It made me feel like I was being watched. Worse. Stalked. Without my permission. Not the kind of stuff that strengthens relationships.

So it's official. I am not a fan of remarketing, nor will I be recommending it to any client any time soon. If you've got a great product and a great brand, stalking as part of your digital strategy should not be in the plan.

Note: Now that my research is complete and this blog written, I will be cleaning out those cookies but I will not be buying those jeans...unless of course I catch a great sale!


Hania Whitfield said...

I noticed this last month when I had done some research for a client and all of a sudden ads for the same items starting showing up on my personal facebook page. It is creepy. And I imagine this is only the beginning of the invasive tools. Good post, Joanne.

Deb Holton-Smith said...

Joanne, I am totally with you on this. Big Brother is watching!!! Not a comforting thought. I'm a health coach. I'm now getting tons of "fat" ads! Enough already. off to clean out my cookies. Didn't know that would stop these....THANKS!!!!

Unknown said...

Glad you found the post insightful.