Ads That Follow You

Do you ever buy something online, and then have an ad promoting that same product follow you to every website you visit for the next two weeks? I remember complaining about this to someone at Google, who told me “that should never happen”. I took this to mean that technology and digital media buyers were savvy enough to know the difference between me buying a product and me showing interest in that product.

I think it is now time to draw the conclusion that we have not reached that point. My experience was not an aberration, I still see this consistently. I don’t think it’s a technology or a strategy issue, it’s an incentive issue.

Media buying companies want to connect supply with demand, and remove as many barriers as possible. If I fall into a bucket of customers that are interested in a product,  they have more supply and demand to make money off of. I believe the technology exists to segment me out from the people that never actually purchased the product, but that would require more effort on their agency’s part. Effort = cost, and for now clients aren’t screaming loud enough for that extra effort.

I am not inclined to be overly critical of clients here. These media buys are likely a small piece of their marketing plan. They correctly allocate their time elsewhere, generating the demand that got me to buy their product in the first place. However, there has been a lot of talk about major CPG companies reviewing digital spend, so maybe there is hope.

I hear clients talk about personalization to the point that the term loses its meaning. I think Seth Godin makes a great point when he says that personalization is overrated and personal marketing is underrated. Market to me like you know me, and we might develop a relationship. Showing me ads for a product I’ve already bought is not how you do that. Marketers should seek to use technology to return to the days when we’d shop at stores where everyone knows us by name. The recommendations should make sense, and further our trust with the brand. It really isn’t that difficult to just show me a similar or complimentary product to the one I already purchased. Unfortunately, I think we have a long way to go.