You Have My Data, Now Stop Retargeting Me!


ADOTAS — Some things never seem to change. Year after year, Site Retargeting remains the mainstay of real-time media buying. Chango estimates that almost 50% of all RTB spend is still on Site Retargeting. So, you’d think we would have figured out how to do it right by now. But just as Site Retargeting’s popularity persists, so too do its problems.

Site Retargeting began as a simple tool to bring back users who visit your site but fail to convert. No wonder, then, that everyone likes Site Retargeting. It’s easy to show a great ROI from a hot prospect who has already been in your store. The problem is that when marketers see those ROIs, they become easy prey for companies selling Site Retargeting — on a click, or even on a CPM basis — that are focused on making the spend larger rather than smarter.

How do you make Site Retargeting more expensive and less efficient? By showing more and more ads to the same person. This absurd practice has driven frequency caps through the roof. In our testing, we found that some brands are showing more than 1,000 ads to the same person in the course of a few days.

The worst part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Brands now have access to plenty of data on consumers. They can know all about a user’s site visits and interactions, the terms a user searches on Google or Bing, the user’s previous conversion data, even the devices the user prefers.

And so it begs the question: If brands know so much about their users, why are they targeting them so often that users feel as though they’re going to gouge their eyes out with a stylus if they have to see the same creative again?

If a brand has access to data, there’s no excuse for stalking. Users don’t mind some friendly reminders about why they should come back and see you again. But they don’t want their entire browsing experience to be dominated by one brand for 60 days — and that’s doubly true when they’re being stalked by an ad for a product they’ve already purchased.

The promise of programmatic is that it can avoid this type of brand stalking. When programmatic is done right, a brand has enough data on consumers to know not just when to retarget but also when not to retarget. With programmatic approach, Site Retargeting becomes far smarter, and that means brands spend less money for every conversion.

How does it work? Programmatic Site Retargeting still involves cookies, but it uses those cookies to point to a universal user profile in the cloud. And that profile can include a lot more information than whether or not the user visited your site. Among other things, it can includes data on the items users have in their carts, their shipping addresses, even the terms they’ve searched.

In other words, brands have the data. Or, at the very least, they can have the data if they’re proactive enough to obtain it. Now it’s time to give us all a better experience. Because, as anyone who has ever had a crazy ex can tell you, being stalked is no fun.


  1. Dan,

    Great post, enjoyed the insights as well as the slight drift into a rant… and the finish. I’ve had my share of crazy exes. I feel you, brother.

    Brands and – far more at fault – their agencies discover something that works better than blind spray-and-pray and then pour everything they can into this. Until, inevitably, it breaks. Happens every time. It’s why we can’t have nice things.

    Avoiding it would be easy, as you point out, the tools are available: data, frequency capping, etc. The one thing that’s missing is the will to employ them – in fairness, it DOES take slightly more effort – and an incentive to do so. Until this changes avoid getting cookie’d by Overstock, don’t help friends research a car purchase and never, ever let your significant other shop online on your laptop.


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