Andrew is a sophisticated Client Service Manager, snappy dresser, and Vovia’s resident Maritimer. A lover of all things exciting, colourful, and loud, he divides his time between maximizing the online presence of clients, being blasted by bass and lasers at music festivals, and rambling on incessantly about cars and travelling.

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Combatting Creepiness in Online Marketing

Why Are You Following Me?

Whenever I talk about online marketing with people who don’t work in the field, they will almost always bring up Remarketing and how products seem to follow them around the internet.

“Why is this toaster following me everywhere I go?”

“I visited that site a month ago! How does it still know that I went there?”

“I was looking at….um…something, and I don’t want anybody to see this ad because then they’ll know I was searching for that….”

Is Remarketing Creepy?

Okay, so that last one doesn’t come up (as) often, but the fact that this topic is bridged so frequently shows how widespread the use of Remarketing is in online advertising. And unfortunately, the notion of “creepiness” comes along with this medium. While this might appear to be a simple topic on the surface, I think it speaks to a bigger concept of how online marketing fits into our modern lives.

Remarketing? Huh?

For those who are unfamiliar with Remarketing, it is the practice of tailoring ads and showing them to people who have visited a website for a specified period of time after they have visited. The goal is to remind that user about their previous visit to the site and to spur them to make a repeat visit, and ultimately, a purchase.

Let’s use the toaster example referenced above. I’m browsing one day for toasters and I visit a site that sells them, but I decide not to buy one right away and I leave the site. Over the next several days, I’m browsing my favourite news site and on the side of the page there is an ad for the exact toaster that I was looking at, from the same site. Later on, the same ad appears on the top of my go-to sports site. How is this possible?? Is this a crazy coincidence?

Nope – there are no coincidences in online marketing.

Building Bridges

This brings me back to that implicit theme that walks alongside Remarketing– creepiness.

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Whether you like it or not, when you’re using a Google account or Facebook, you’re disclosing information about yourself to online marketers. Don’t hate the player…

There are those that lump Google’s data collection into the even bigger and contentious debate about government surveillance and the unlawful collection of personal information (think Snowden and the NSA). While I’m not going to dive into that minefield today, I’m here to tell you that the data that online marketers use is for marketing purposes only. It is completely anonymous and never contains personal information like name, addresses, SIN numbers, or banking information.

In reality, we online marketers are using this information to make the online experience better for website visitors and our clients. It’s all about relevance.

Check Twice, Buy Once

You are being shown ads for that toaster because you expressed interest in the product on your own accord and we think that there is a reasonable possibility that you might return one day to buy it. Outside of day-to-day products like groceries, gum or a bottle of water that are bought on a whim, many products and services have long buying cycles. Have you ever researched a product online and sat on it for a while before actually buying? I’m willing to bet nearly everybody has.

If a product has an especially long buying cycle, like a car or a house, consumers could go months or even years before they finally buy. Remarketing allows brands to keep their names in the mix for when that user finally does buy.

Back Off, Man!

Skilled online marketers and savvy brands understand that the relentless bombardment of ads is actually counterproductive to their marketing efforts. We know that over exposure can eventually cause ad fatigue and blindness. That’s why we set strict limits on how frequently and how many times a person will see a particular ad, and how long a user’s cookie data is kept in the list

Marketers also use targeted placements to match the ads that you are served to the site that you are visiting later on, and we can fine tune things even more with certain keywords and interests. And of course, certain undesirable sites are always excluded—adult themed sites and ones that contain violence, hate, or illegal material will always be black listed.

The goal of online marketing isn’t to annoy people. The more restrained you are with serving ads to users, the better the response tends to be. There is always a sweet spot to be found and this is only uncovered through rigorous testing and analysis.

We’re All in This Together

At the end of the day, we are now living in a hyper-connected world where you leave a digital footprint wherever you go on the internet. As online marketers, we use pieces of these footprints to connect brands and products to users that we think are a good fit. We’re not trying to be that weird stranger who lurks behind you in an alley. Our aim is to be your thoughtful friend who refreshes your memory once in a while!

Give us a shout to see how we can make Remarketing work for you in a non-creepy way.