Don Marti

Fri 06 Feb 2015 06:00:50 AM PST

Signaling fail, or, Ogilvy was right

How retargeting is supposed to work, from Rohit Yadav:

For example, prospect visits your website and you have a cookie tied into that site. That cookie is tied into an Advertisement network on the web. This allows you to follow that person around for the next five, ten or thirty days with display ads. You in a way are re-marketing yourself to that person who first hit your website and you retain brand presence. The customer is saying. “Wow, this is a big company. They must be credible with a real brand.” This is a very cost effective way to spend money.

Unfortunately for retargeting, the customer probably isn't saying that at all.

As David Ogilvy once wrote, The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife. If retargeting is something that you can explain in a blog post to the average marketing person, or to your spouse (who as Ogilvy points out is just as much of not a moron as you are), how long does it take a person using the web to figure it out?

Yadav is 100% right on the desired signaling effect of web advertising. Advertising, when it works, does have the purpose of establishing the credibility of the advertiser's brand. (Which is why ad creative is so important. If it's memorable, the advertiser gets a multiplier effect on the cost of the same ad space.)

The problem, though, and why retargeting doesn't work for signaling, is that people are now aware of it. People commonly remark on ads that follow me around the web. When the audience is aware of targeting, it breaks the signaling power of an ad.

Not only does retargeting not give one advertiser a free lunch, it contaminates everyone else's lunch by devaluing the medium. What's the solution? I think we're close to figuring it out.

Bonus links: fiction, non-fiction