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A Case Against Retargeting: From the Consumer Perspective


I’m currently being followed online by a table, a pillow and two lamps. These items trail me from website to website as I read news, check the weather or indulge in my guilty pleasure of celebrity gossip.  Yes, I’m being stalked by home décor!

I shop online way too much for my own good.  I love the value, convenience and ability to research products.  But what I really enjoy is anonymity – the ability to shop without being bothered by a salesperson.  Enter advertising retargeting and now the online equivalent of an annoying sales person is following me wherever I go.

Imagine, if you will, entering a store and being asked by a well-intentioned salesperson if you need help with anything.  Your response is the customary, “just browsing, thanks.”  You leave the store and the salesperson follows you from store to store reminding you of what you saw in his or her store.  “Hey, check out this lovely chevron pillow!  Just wanted to remind you that we have it on sale this week.”  You leave the store only to see that same salesperson in another store … and another, continually reminding you of what items piqued your interest in their store.  I would image that you would eventually get the slightest bit annoyed.

Such aggressive sales techniques would never be deemed successful or even appropriate offline and yet retargeting is the talk of online marketing.  Sure it’s every marketers dream to be able to hit the sweet spot with the consumer – getting them at the perfect moment with exactly what they need or want.  However, I’m not interested in those alabaster lamps I just looked at on CSNlighting.com while reading Perez Hilton.  I’m starting to wonder how I can tell Overstock.com and CB2 that I’m just browsing and don’t need to be reminded of the chairs I looked at two days ago or the table I actually purchased a week ago.

I know that advertising retargeting is very successful, but will it eventually backfire?  How many holiday surprises will be ruined when a wife is served with an ad revealing her gift on a shared home computer?  I’m speaking from experience here after my husband was served with an Art.com banner ad showing him the map of Paris I planned on surprising him with.

Will savvy internet users eventually get a little freaked out by all the data collection that’s happening and simply clear out their cookies on daily basis to avoid being stalked by home décor?

Brooks Bell Interactive has had a lot of success using retargeting to serve relevant messages that increase conversion. Where do we draw the line between relevant and annoying?