Archive | August 2010

Overkill Could Kill Our Business

The following was originally posted on

I have been overwhelmed by Zappos retargeting ads from Criteo recently.  Apparently, I am not the only one.  Michael Learmonth wrote a piece in Ad Age yesterday about the subject and I think it about it a lot (see post).  Data driven marketers are walking a very fine line, balancing what we can do and what we should do, and I believe that Criteo and others that focus on automated, dynamically personalized  retargeting creative  have crossed it.  What’s worse is that there is no need to cross this line because I don’t believe that this approach to retargeting improves performance and I know it pisses a lot of people off and can hurt a brand.

I am a big proponent of retargeting and we do a lot of it at Cross Pixel.  It is an effective strategy.  My concern is with retargeters that use tactics that scare the consumer by exposing too much information in the ads.  One popular tactic is to utilize the last products searched as the basis for the ad creative.  The theory is that the ad will perform better because it is being personalized (dynamically) to the specific products that were of interest.  It makes sense, in theory, but it can be annoying to consumers in practice.  Since buying a new pair of very cool Puma sneaks from Zappos about 2 weeks ago (the author is going retro), I believe I have seen 300+ ads from Criteo for Zappos that continually show me the same 5 pairs of sneakers that I was researching.  Here are some suggestions that retargeters should consider:

  1. I already bought the sneakers they keep pushing, so I would recommend that remarketers remove buyer’s cookies from these types of retargeting efforts.  A consumer that isn’t in the business would think that Zappos is a clueless company (“Why does Zappos keep bombarding me with ads for a product that I already bought?”)
  2. Frequency caps are even more important when you are dealing in personalized ads.  I have seen the Zappos ads 10 times or more on certain days.  Most marketers utilize a frequency cap of 1 or 2 imps per day per unique.  Dynamic retargeters MUST utilize frequency caps.  My sneaker purchase was one small part of my life about two weeks ago.  Based on the frequency I see the ads from Zappos, it feels like that one shoe buying event is defining my online existence.
  3. Dynamic, personalized creative can produce as many false positives as positives.  If I was on an auto site and I looked up lots of Ferraris and Lamborghini’s does that mean I am “in market” for those cars?  I wish that were true, but it isn’t the case.  Dynamic creative can make many mistakes – the last products you looked at aren’t necessarily the ones you will react to and buy.  What if the last products you looked at were a total turn off and made you leave the site? This is a risk not worth taking.
  4. Overkill – this is my biggest concern.  Based on experience, automated, personalized creative in retargeting efforts does not improve performance.  The reason this is the case is because you are targeting a consumer that is already predisposed to the web site that they visited.  It doesn’t take much to get them back to buy goods at the site.  Simple ads that remind them to return are all you need to get people to return and buy.  I equate it to Search Engine Marketing and bidding on your brand name.  When someone goes to Google and searches for “Zappos, they are likely going to click on the Zappos search result regardless of what the text ad says – they were already predisposed to Zappos.  There is really no need for an SEM firm to focus on the text ads for a “Zappos” keyword search.  They don’t need to personalize them, or test varieties of copy.  There is only so much fine tuning that is necessary – optimizing the ads for the keyword Zappos is a total waste of time and the same is true for retargeting. It is highly likely that the consumer will return to the site they already visited if they are interested.  Personalized creative is overkill and unnecessary.

I am sure the retargeters using these tactics will disagree with me and I look forward to hearing why I might be wrong.  Our data says automated, personalized creative doesn’t improve performance in retargeting and I know I am not the only one who is annoyed by this type of advertising.  The data driven marketing community needs to show a little restraint if we are going to win over acceptance by the consumer.


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