Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More on what to advertise when there is no commercial intent

Some of the advertising out there is getting spooky. If you look at a product at many online stores, that product will then follow you around the web.

Go to BBC News, for example, and there will be those dishes you were looking at yesterday on Overstock. Not just any dishes, the exact same dishes. Just in case you forgot about them, there they are again next time you go. And again. And again.

A few years ago, I wrote an article, "What to advertise when there is no commercial intent?". That article suggested that, on sites like news sites, we might not have immediate commercial intent, and might have to reach back into the past to find strong commercial intent. It advocated for personalized advertising that helped people discover interesting products and deals related to strong commercial intent they had earlier.

However, this did not mean that you should just show the last product I looked at. That is refinding, not personalized recommendations. Refinding is all a lot of these ads are doing. You look at a chair, ads follow you around the web showing you ads for that same chair that you already know about over and over again. That's not discovery. That's spooky and not helpful.

Personalized ads should help people discover things they don't know about related to past purchase intent. If I look at a chair, show me highly reviewed similar furniture and good coupons and big deals related in some non-obvious way to that chair and that store. Don't just show me the same chair again. I know about that chair. Show me something I don't know. Help me discover something I haven't found yet.

I understand the reason these companies are doing refinding is because it's hard to do anything better. Doing useful recommendations of related products and deals is hard. Helping people discover something new and interesting is hard. Personalized recommendations requires a lot of data, clever algorithms, and a huge amount of work. Refinding is trivially easy.

But publishers aren't doing themselves any favors by allowing these startups to get away with this kind of useless advertising. As a recent study says, "the practice of running annoying ads can cost more money than it earns." That short-term revenue bump from these spooky refinding ads is like a sugar rush, feels good while it lasts, but hurts in the long-term.

They can and should do better. Personalization, including personalized advertising, should be about helping people discover things they could not easily find on their own. Personalization should not be refinding, just showing what I found before, just exposing my history. Personalization should be helpful. Personalization should be discovery.


AJ said...

While remarketing in this blunt way can be a) spooky and b) annoying but it's also something else c) effective.

In the search world re-finding content is actually quite powerful and something to solve for. In the commerce world 'cart abandonment' is a big issue. I think it would be a poor assumption to think that all of that abandonment was final.

People vacillate or they were interrupted or they had to chat with their spouse or they didn't have the money just then. Or they just had better impulse control at that point in time. Whatever it is, seeing that item again can often re-engage that process. So instead of the Belly Fat ad you might get this type of remarketing because it simply works well enough (really well) for a sub-segment of the market.

Of course there are others (like you and I) who see that ad and know we're not going to act on it again. Been there, done that. So there is an advancement to be made here but I think it's harder than potentially presented.

Personalization is important but understanding intent may be even more so. I'm not saying that remarketing shouldn't evolve. It should and needs to but the current ads serve a purpose so it's building ways to understand the timing of that intent (by AOV perhaps) and then switch to something else algorithmic (something more personalized) when that first re-engagement intent has passed.

Amazon still relies on what you previously viewed quite a bit, though they're mixing in some recommendations along the way. But it's taken them a long time to get that working. So I think we'll be seeing what we saw for longer than we'd like.

Anonymous said...

Worse still, even when you buy the item (the chair in this case), the ads will still follow you around - this time they are trying to sell you something you have already bought. So at the very least there is opportunity loss here, quite apart from the annoyance.

Unknown said...

Retargeting is yet another communication mechanism to reach and engage potential customers when they are away from your site. Not taking advantage of their interest and intent is rather dumb if you ask me.