Personalized ad retargeting: creepy or effective? or both?

“I always feel like / Somebody’s watching me-ee / And I have no privacy” – Rockwell

If you ever visit sites on the web (from any given device), you’ve seen retargeted ads (unless you’re the rare creature who knows how to move invisibly through the Interwebs).  For me, being in the industry means I WANT to see the latest/greatest/most invasive ad technology out there.  For better or worse, you must know what is in the market and how it will impact the space.  This technology has been around for years, but is gaining prevalence and crossing into new categories.

In a nutshell, here is how personalized retargeting works: you visit advertiser A’s site and peruse products 1, 2 and 3 (maybe even throwing them in a shopping cart).  You later leave the site and visit another entirely unrelated site, only to see an ad from advertiser A that includes images and links to products 1, 2 and 3.  The first few times you saw this you were shocked – now it is a multiple times per day occurrence.  MAGIC!  Not really…actually, the advertiser and publisher are colluding to track you and target your innermost feelings.  You would have to be living under a rock to have missed some of the debate regarding privacy, tracking, cookies…this may or may not freak you out.  It obviously freaks Rockwell out, and probably the lead singer for Men At Work (“Who can it be now??)

As a consumer, I must say the following: personalized retargeting doesn’t bother me (yet).  Seeing ads for things I’m ACTUALLY interested in buying rather than random who-knows-what is in some ways less annoying/invasive.  In fact, in some iterations I look at those ads as my own “portable shopping cart” endlessly reminding me that I love watches (and these ads HAVE driven me back to purchase: guilty).  On the other hand, for some categories this tactic can be annoying or even disturbing.  For example, if you broke up with an ex weeks ago and are continually reminded of the painful breakup by seeing the Vermont Teddy Bear you almost bought her in the ad slot as you surf the web (if ONLY i’d bought the bear!)  More tipping the line – retargeting based on consumption of more “sensitive” content (healthcare, debt relief, etc).

So – what do you think?  Creepy?  Effective?  Both?  Any examples that stood out to you lately?


3 thoughts on “Personalized ad retargeting: creepy or effective? or both?

    1. Great question aquatic barefoot (and great user name!) Click-through rates on personalized, retargeted ads is about 10X that of standard banner ads (.7% vs. .07%). Not sure about downstream sales numbers, but the CTR is solid and driving good revenue for publishers.


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