Wednesday, September 04, 2013
How online targeting actually reduces the relevance of the ads we see
Before I set out to hike the GR5 in the French Alps, I became fixated with finding the lightest gear for the trip. I wanted to get the right gear at the best price (particularly since I have not spent this much on hiking equipment for years). Needless to say, I spent a lot of time online researching my purchases. As a result of my investigations I was exposed to the vagaries of online ad targeting as never before.
My experience suggests to me that far from living up to the promise to deliver more relevant advertising, often what you get is the opposite - ads that are completely irrelevant.
Why? Because many of the ads shown are for products you have already bought or rejected. In my opinion, much of the online advertising ecosystem is a) incredibly wasteful, b) operates on 20/20 hindsight, and c) is incomplete because there is no way for the ad server to know you bought one of the items you searched for or what you paid for it. The end result is an excess of ads relevant to past behavior, offering the same brand for wildly different prices that crowds out other potentially more relevant ads.
I understand the fact that when I visit a retailer’s site they will then target me with ads for stuff I looked at. For weeks I was haunted by ads for backpacks, crampons and sleeping bags. I could live with that. But then I started to buy stuff and the ads continued. I bought a lightweight pack made by Osprey. Weeks later I was still seeing ads from eBags for alternatives. I bought a North Face bivi bag from Campmor. Guess who was showing me ads on Facebook for bivi bags weeks later? You guessed it: Campmor.
This is what I mean when I say the system is incomplete. The purchase loop is not closed. The ad targeting systems are not linked to a centralized purchasing database. Worse still, I can check the price of potential purchases with just one click but it is pretty clear the ad serving systems do not. The advertised price of many products varies wildly between advertisers.
I wish I could say that wasted ad space was the domain of small outdoor sports companies unsophisticated in their use of online media. Unfortunately it is not. Recently I visited the Avis Web site and made two separate reservations. What do I see today? First there was one, then two ads from Avis asking me if I had forgotten to book a car. Duh!
Is it any wonder that 1 in 4 online ads have a measurable negative effect on purchase consideration? If nothing else, that finding might be explained by the fact that people have already bought the brand and have no other recourse but to say, “Enough already!”
What do you think? Please share your thoughts.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 04, 2013
and is filed under Digital.
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