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Is Ad Re-targeting Reaching Audiences, or Repelling Them?

Is Ad Re-targeting Reaching Audiences, or Repelling Them?

Modern marketers are obsessed with digital marketing. It’s understandable; digital ad serving seems on the face of it to reduce inefficiencies, be more trackable, and use data to identify likely prospects. But appearances have proven deceptive over time, and a host of issues—including fraudulent trafficbrand safety and the growing use of ad blocking—have arisen to make reasonable marketers question just how good digital is at reaching target audiences, i.e., people who are ready to buyAnd major marketers have begun to acknowledge that digital is not necessarily the best driver of sales.

Yet, 2019 marks the year when several major markets will end the year with over half of ad spending dedicated to digital. More than two-thirds of digital ad spending is going to mobile ad serving. The forecast for print media is dire, with eMarketer predicting a decline in magazine and newspaper advertising of 18 percent, citing an “inflection point” in people’s device use and changing media consumption habits.

Client Assumptions vs. Consumer Behavior

Advertisers go where their customers are. But the difficulties inherent to digital marketing are just one portion of the media planning puzzle. Another growing consideration is marketers’ belief that they can better predict and “motivate” user behavior with data collection and retargeting to help them along. 

This ignores several things:

  • People are increasingly aware of how their personal data trails are being harvested and used to follow them around the internet, or track them on mobile devices… and they’re opting for ad blocking and fewer brand apps as a result. GDPR has affected European data collection and use, with similar data restrictions beginning to appear in the U.S. market. And the publicity around data scandals is increasing distrust in brands and marketing.
  • People are learning more about how marketers manipulate their decision-making and are becoming less susceptible largely because marketers are over-serving ads—the sheer annoyance of marketing bombardment is causing people to be more skeptical of marketing messages, and less inclined to pay any attention to them.
  • Adobe recently shared a stat suggesting that close to half of internet users find TV ads more relevant than anything they are served online (younger internet users deemed online ads slightly better than did older users). Just 35% said they find social media ads relevant, and only 14% said web banners were relevant. Also, while 70% of marketers believe their ads are relevant to their audiences, just 27% of users agree that ads are “often relevant.” Re-targeting still has some machine learning to do….


Marketers have bought into the idea that digital is a magic pill for manipulating people to buy. They have consequently stripped away all pretense of persuasion and focused on serving ad after ad with the goal of X-angle marketing—surrounding an individual with overlapping marketing messages. In short, the subtlety is gone, and the manipulative tactics are now out in the open. Marketing is now confrontational, not persuasive. And people don’t like it.

Where does this leave agencies and their clients?

Back to Marketing Basics

To truly regain the confidence and trust of our target audiences, agencies and their clients have to address the following:

  • We need to remember (and become good at explaining to our clients) that past behaviors are not a guarantee of future behavior. Data tells you where a person has been, not where they are going, and does not always reveal intent. Research clients’ customers and understand what drives consideration and purchase.
  • We need to return to persuasive tactics offering details about product quality, benefits to users, a reason to buy, etc. What do people need to move them to a purchase decision? How can we craft messages that guide them along the purchase journey?
  • We need to attract attention in through using great creative ideas. You can re-target people all you like, but if your messages repel instead of appeal, you’re wasting ad dollars.
  • We need to recognize that serving ads on the device of the moment is not the only—or best—way to reach an audience. Combining media tactics and proposing integrated campaigns helps multiply the impact of a great message and improve marketing effectiveness.
  • We need to make an understanding of customer wants and needs our focus, not solely marketers’ goals. Teach account executives and planners to ask why, always probing to ensure we are developing not just the best solution, but the right solution—the one that actually serves a customer want or need, andhelps deliver on client goals.


No amount of ad spending is going to move the marketing dial if it focuses solely on data manipulation. Always remember that at the other end of a client transaction is a human being, driven by emotion, irrational biases, and their own wants and needs. It’s our job to convince people to consider and want client products and services. Digital re-targeting is only valuable if it can be used to move and inspire potential customers to purchase, not drive them to their ad blocking apps.

Comments

1 comment
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4 months ago

This is a great read and spot on. Digital products just as social media has its value but it is not the only way or venue to use. We need to continue to focus on knowing our clients customer base and knowing that our customers are much more engaged than we sometimes think.

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