What is this f#ckery called retargeting?… Is it effective?

Remember when you were in the market for a fresh pair of kicks or a new top to impress that not so special someone on your recently memorable for all the wrong reasons tinder date? You jumped onto ASOS and when overwhelmed with the choices thought “Fuck it I’ll look later.”. No? Well, facebook sure seems to think you did. Next thing you know your sitting in class, at work, on the train and you stumble your way online only to see banner ads from ASOS for the exact category you were perusing. Creepy. But hey no harm no foul you shrug it off right? And that weekend you’re out shopping with friends and low and behold find that perfect pair of shoes, tie, whatever, no need to keep looking but that’s not what Facebook thinks…next thing you know all you see for the next few weeks are ads for shoes over and over again to the point of irrational anger. Or is it rational?

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This is just one example of how technology is influencing advertisement and is more commonly known as ‘Adtech’. The example above highlights one of the most notorious forms of Adtech called retargeting where it roughly works like this; a website uses cookie-based technology that uses javascript code to follow those who visit the page around the rest of the web. This is done so anonymously and is done so in a way that the ad will only target those who have visited the said website. The purpose of this, of course, is so that even though Bob didn’t make it all the way to the ‘check out’, maybe he got distracted or something came up, brands and websites can subtly remind Bob about the new ultra shiny garden hose reel and other similar categorical items and hey, maybe Bob will complete the purchase at a later time and think fondly about that website.

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But is this ethical? Is Bob only buying that hose reel because he kept seeing images of it everywhere he went and now only bought it based on one initial passing thought, turned action off of subliminal advertising? More and more consumers are becoming irritated and fed up with the constant feed of adverts in their lives opting for web browser extensions that block all ads and it even caused big companies like Apple to start building these types of ad blockers into their own web browsers which have then been used as part of a selling point of their products. Innovations in technology have brought about a lot of new and amazing streams in which the advertising industry can play with but is the industry just being lazy?

The term ‘brand engagement’ is thrown around a lot these days where big brands want consumers to ‘engage’ with them but tactics like retargeting has had the exact opposite effect where consumers are actively trying to disengage with brands and ads so they can have a moment of peace from the bombardment of products and services shoved down their eyeballs. If you rely heavily on retargeting your potential consumers for your products and or services are you even offering anything of worth? Perhaps its time to think more creatively and do something that has consumers wanting to engage with your website and or brand.

By Lachlan Burdis (Bachelor of Advertising and Media student)

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