When Remarketing Goes Wrong

hands-coffee-smartphone-technologyMarketers can save themselves a lot of trouble by routinely asking, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ That may sound a bit pessimistic or cynical, but I disagree. If you don’t foresee potential problems, you’re helpless to avoid them. Few, if any, ideas are truly ‘all upside’ at their inception. Envisioning potential negative consequences is a vital part of both mitigating them and assessing total risk.

Of course, this process doesn’t have to rely solely on imagination. Every marketer is also a consumer and our peers are constantly trying to find new ways to engage us with their brands. Paying attention to our own responses to these efforts is an easy way to be mindful of potential pitfalls when we take actions of our own, which brings me to the topic in the headline.

Remarketing by showing ads to people who have visited a website or app when they visit other sites has been around for a while now, but it feels like companies have really ramped up their efforts over the past year. In that time, I’ve noted quite a few instances when I was the target of a remarketing campaign that rubbed me the wrong way. Here are three that really stand out, along with the lessons I took away.

Don’t be creepy / Don’t regurgitate what I’ve already read
This twofer has the benefit of proximity, as it happened just last weekend. I went to a retailer’s site to learn more about a product. The next page I visited was my webmail, where there was already an email waiting for me that contained identical text to the product page and almost nothing else.

We’re aware that companies track our behavior to the extent that we allow it and we somewhat expect unsolicited follow-up communications. That said, there’s a psychological difference between ‘hey, we saw you looked at this last week, are you still interested?’ and an instant response that feels like stalking.

Beyond that, when you follow up with me, either offer something new or vastly condense what you’re reminding me of. When I’m reading a wall of text that sounds familiar and then see that it’s verbatim the same text I already read, it’s annoying. It sends the message that you want my money, but it’s not worth putting any degree of effort into whatsoever.

Don’t point out I paid you too much
Over the holidays, I purchased a gift online for $180. For the following 3-4 weeks, I was regularly served display ads featuring it from the retailer I purchased it from. That’s bad form in the first place, as I already made the purchase and it wasn’t an item someone is likely to buy multiples of.

Even worse was the fact that they included the price, which slowly dropped to around $130. We all understand that prices fluctuate and mostly accept that, even if it still stings a bit to buy something and see an immediate drop. Despite that, it’s terrible form for a company to actively and repeatedly call attention to the fact that the wrapped present sitting next to my Christmas tree would’ve been $50 cheaper if I’d waited a couple weeks.

Don’t offer to sell me something you can’t sell me
Last year we were decorating our son’s room and found the perfect bookshelves for it on the site of one of the nation’s largest retailers. Unfortunately, it was out of stock online, not available for store pick-up and seemed to be exclusive to that store.

The next day, I received an email from the company urging me to come back and buy the bookshelves. Only, when I clicked on the link, they were still unavailable. That was the first of six emails, spread over the course of the month, designed to get me to buy the bookshelves. At least two included discount codes. Like an idiot, I kept clicking the links in the emails, hoping they’d come back in stock, but no, it was just the company repeatedly reminding me they couldn’t meet my need. Hopefully, not what they were going for.

Have your own lessons learned from a company’s mistake in remarketing to you? Why not post it in the comments?

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