Our VP of Strategy offers insights into the strategy of digital retargeting. In doing so, she has specific ideas about how you can elude this functionality — specifically if you are shopping for the holidays and don’t want your family to know exactly what’s under the tree.
Dear Internet: Thanks for ruining the holidays, yet again.
Seriously. This happens every year around this time. I begin searching meticulously for the perfect presents for my three children, who range in age from 6 to 20.
I visit web retailers they frequent. I search Amazon. I browse sites, build lists, stock shopping carts, sometimes purchase and often abandon with abandon.
But then, inevitably, days (or even hours) later, I’ll end up on some other website — where a “suggested” post with the exact contents of my shopping cart is being prominently pimped. EVEN IF I’VE ALREADY PURCHASED THEM!
Worse yet: My kids (yes, the very ones I was shopping for) will be on my computer, googling something for homework or scrolling through social media, and there’s an ad featuring the items I’ve already bought for them and wrapped and tied up in curly glittery ribbons. Or they’re in their rooms on their devices, and without my even realizing it, they’re seeing the contents of my abandoned shopping cart in the form of ads on their favorite social site of choice.
(Wow, Ulta. My teenage daughter who was served up this ad yesterday will be SO surprised next month. TYSM!)
So what exactly is happening here? It’s a legit marketing practice called “retargeting,” and it can single-handedly ruin Christmas.
However these retailers are tracking (read: stalking) you, they know your behavior (insofar as you either clicked on or purchased something), and they know your interests. And they feel compelled to vie for your attention, yet again. So through these very cookies, they’ll be back offering more tempting treats in the form of other things you can purchase.
But they don’t stop there, because sometimes, all it takes is sheer proximity to someone who clicked a link. Every internet connection point has an IP address, after all, so whether you have one computer accessing the internet in your home or you have four smartphones, three computers, two tablets and a partridge in a pear tree, they’re all associated with that same address.
This means you, your kids, even that neighbor dude who picks off your free Wi-Fi are all potentially being retargeted, because the internet doesn’t know which one of you is the “you” who didn’t (or even did) buy the thing of interest.
Don’t get me started on the abundance of Harry’s Razors ads I get served up after my 20-year-old son spends time in my home, because at some point, he used my internet, clicked a link, and now I’m a person of razor-buying interest.
Retargeting Can Be an Effective Marketing Tool
Now here’s the deal: We at the Estipona Group see this as a spectacular marketing tool for many of our clients. There is legitimacy to the fact that when you visit a certain site, perhaps you’re not in the right headspace to make a purchase; other times, you’ve been distracted by a phone call/burning desire for coffee/bleeding child (it was just a papercut, but still…); still other times, maybe you need to do more research — often of competitors — before committing. In all of these cases, retargeting can be a valuable “reminder” of the advantages of your particular product or service.
One of the keys to good marketing is to engage audiences according to their preferences, so using insights gathered based on their own behaviors and interests is far better than taking random shots in the marketing dark.
But Retargeting Can Also Be a Spoiler of Epic Proportions
Yet at the same time, retargeting can gut you; it can absolutely spoil a good surprise. We see how this can ruin the act of digital shopping for some families, because we are telegraphing gifts and interests that we’ve actually shopped for — sometimes by way of the same computer you’ve used, but other times, more alarmingly, on the computers, phones, etc. of the very gift-recipients for which you were shopping in the first place!
So please consider this a marketing public service, because we have no interest in spoiling the holidays for anyone.
Here are Legit Ways to Prevent Cyber-Stalking from Cyber-Spoiling:
- When you shop for holiday gifts, remember to browse privately (also called “going incognito”).
How to do this varies based on your particular browser, so research “how to browse incognito on…” and complete the search using the name of your browser of choice (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Explorer, or whatever you use). Pro hack: Also do this while researching prices for travel, as repeat visitors to travel sites often get higher prices if they return after initial research; travel sites figure they’ve piqued your interest, after all, so a return visitor has a higher likelihood of paying extra after they’ve made the decision to book.)
So research your particular browser’s technique, or use a keyboard shortcut to open an Incognito window. Here are a few ways:
Windows, Linux, or Chrome OS: Press Ctrl + Shift + n.
Mac: Press the swirly command button (that's what it's called, right?) + Shift + n.
Smartphones: Android and iOS users can find incognito browsing tips here.
- Delete your cookies after a particularly productive online shopping trip.
If you’ve spent an evening taking care of most of your holiday list on the family computer, spend some time immediately thereafter deleting your cookies so that you won’t be retargeted from the sites you’ve visited. While this will be an auto-bummer because your auto-completes will now be empty, it is the best way to avoid retargeting. The one caveat to this tip: If your kids are in your home while you’re shopping, they might still see “suggested” ads based on your current session. Because remember what I mentioned about proximity and IP addresses above? Yeah, sometimes it only takes mere moments, and even deleting cookies won’t prevent future retargeting.
- Hide specific ads if you’re being targeted on social media sites.
I’m looking at you, Ulta. Sheesh.
(And use good ol’ Google for ways to hide ads on your other social media channels.)
- Review permissions granted to your apps, and turn off potential cyberstalking tools like cameras and microphones.
Do Facebook, Snapchat and Insta really need to listen to you or take pictures of the places you visit? Probably not, though we know they do. (We documented this idea through a compelling tale of recyclable produce bags right here, after all.) Read about the steps to take to turn off permissions at the bottom of our post called “Shhhhhh, Facebook Actually Is Listening: Surveillance Marketing Explained.”
There you have it: Specific ways to spend time online, enjoying the magical advantages of cookies that know you might still want that glittery Ulta eyeshadow palette, without revealing said future surprise glittery Ulta eyeshadow palette to your glittery-Ulta-eyeshadow-palette-loving-17-year-old.
And by the way, dear 17-year-old daughter of mine: Act surprised on Christmas, mkay?
Mikalee Byerman is Vice President of Strategy for the Estipona Group. Email her if you’ve recently been in her general vicinity and are curious why you’re now seeing ads for bricklayers and wine purses. She can explain…