Retargeting has taken the advertising world by storm. No longer do advertisers have to hope that an audience they want will be found at a particular publisher. They can chase audiences everywhere based on some signal of intent, independent of publishers. Not even Waldo can hide.
The problem of course is that ad stalking can be creepy. It’s creepy not just because the ads are persistent, it’s that the ads are tone-deaf. They don’t take any context into account.
Browse a red-and-white striped sweater and ads for that red-and-white striped sweater will stalk you across the Internet. Even if you already bought the sweater somewhere else. And even if you browsed the sweater on a lazy Sunday and are now reading a business article on a work day and aren’t in the mood to shop. The sweater ad won’t leave you alone.
As John Battelle put it recently:
“Fast-forward to today, and programmatic has torn audience away from its contextual roots. Using programmatic tools, a media buyer can identify almost any audience segment they want with pinpoint precision – down to the exact cookie or data segment that matches a customer target. And for various reasons, including price, those audience members are targeted mainly on who they are, independently of what they are doing. Put another way, we buy audiences, but we aren’t buying the show they’re watching – we’re ignoring where that impression is served.
“This is nuts.
“After 20 years of chasing click through rates as a core metric for branded display advertising, we’re finally realizing that CTR is a race to the bottom. The ecosystem optimizes for clicks, and we lose the value of branding in the process. We’re making a similar mistake with audience buying. Exercised without context as a key signal, it’s a bad habit, one we need to change if we’re going to build brands using programmatic media.”
Stalking audiences with retargeting is done in the name of more relevant advertising. But we’re in an awkward adolescent stage of understanding what messaging is truly relevant. To be really relevant, messaging will have to factor in context.
Advertisers will have to think outside the cookie.
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