Are Re-marketing Ads Creepy or Convincing?


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Jeff Finkelstein, founder of Customer Paradigm, was kind enough to engage in the following Q and A with me about the practice of “re-marketing,” as in ads that target people who have already been to your web site, and re-market your products to them.

Bruce: A few weeks ago I was looking at eyeglasses at, but didn’t buy anything. For days afterwards, everywhere I went online I saw WarbyParker ads. It was as though someone stole all the web ads in the world and replaced them with WarbyParker ads. It wasn’t helpful, it was spooky. Why does this happen?

Jeff: I met a couple of people from WarbyParker at the Magento Imagine trade show earlier this year. They are using the Magento Commerce platform for their business, and it’s going remarkably well. They offer eyeglasses for $95, and give away a pair of glasses to someone in a developing nation for every pair you purchase. They have pushed the envelope with technology, including a way to upload a photo of yourself to their site, and then “try” on a pair of glasses to see how they will look on your face.

I did not, however, discuss any of their online marketing with them, so my comments about your online experience are based purely on speculation and guesswork, and my company’s work (Customer Paradigm) developing and marketing Magento web sites.

What likely happened is that you visited their website after doing a web search. At that point, Google placed a bit of tracking code into your browser. WarbyParker most likely is using Google’s re-marketing system. They pay on a cost-per-click basis to have their ads displayed on some of the major content network sites, so that past visitors to their website (who have expressed interest by visiting their site) will be enticed back to the Magento site, where (hopefully) they will make a purchase.

Instead of bombarding everyone on the web with expensive advertising, they are targeting people who have already visited their site, and trying to get them to come back.

It takes 6-12 interactions for someone to go from a browser to a buyer; this helps create more trusted interactions.

Bruce: Let’s try to equate this sort of corporate behavior to real life. Imagine a young guy, let’s call him Roger, who meets Sally at a party, gets her number, and leaves a message asking her out for next Saturday. Before Sally can return his call, Roger starts showing up everywhere Sally goes, holding a giant sign: I WANT A DATE WITH SALLY. Is this helpful or creepy? Why does it create more trusted interactions to stalk someone around the Web?

Jeff: That would be creepy. It’s one thing to have a business re-market to customers using a content network based on someone anonymously visiting your site in the past.

It’s a whole other thing to do this for dating. The difference is anonymous vs. personally-identifiable.

You wouldn’t be able to use Google’s system to do something like this. She would have had to visit Roger’s web site; but it wouldn’t track her as a person, but just that some browser had visited the site in the past.

That said, if Sally isn’t careful, she may be posting publicly on Facebook and Twitter, so it might be easy for someone to find out more about who they are/what they are all about.

Bruce: From the company’s perspective, the interaction might be anonymous, but from the customer’s there is nothing anonymous about this at all. WarbyParker is following me around the Web, not you. Why do you think it is taking so long for companies to understand that from a customer’s perspective so many marketing practices seem dumb at best, creepy and unacceptable at worst?

Jeff: To the company, the interaction is completely anonymous. All of the tracking happens through Google and their servers. They don’t know the identity of the user coming to their site. They just want to re-market via display banner advertising on other sites in Google’s content network. The only way a company knows your identity is if you go to a site and make a purchase or fill out a form with your information.

To most average Web users, the interaction doesn’t usually trigger psychological alarm. They might just see ads on some of the websites that they visit that display sites they are interested in, and feel an increased sense of trust that a site they visited is now advertising on other sites, too.

For most average Web users, they don’t understand that the company is targeting them directly via re-marketing. Most average users “tune out” ads on websites. This is a major reason that Facebook’s advertising revenue is low: their users mostly care about friends and status updates, and tend to not click much on ads on the site.

Most people know that when they visit an eCommerce site like Amazon, and then search for specific products (i.e. digital cameras), when they return, digital cameras may be featured on the home page of the site.

Tactics like re-marketing are successful, or advertisers wouldn’t continue to use them. Concerned consumers always can opt-out from re-marketing by visiting a privacy policy link next to each ad. Or, they can use a “stealth mode” in their browser that removes any tracking cookies from Google or other websites.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bruce Kasanoff
Managing Director of Now Possible, was cited by The Chartered Institute of Marketing among their inaugural listing of the 5 most influential thinkers in marketing and business today. He is an innovative communicator who has a track record of working with highly entrepreneurial organizations.


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