It’s been around for a while, but is retargeting really ethical? You decide. Imagine yourself at the mall. You go into one of your favorite shoe stores with some idea of the type of shoe you’d want to buy, but not necessarily in a hurry to make a purchase. You’re checking out a shoe when the sales clerk approaches you and says, “Would you like to see that shoe in your size.” You kindly reply that at this time you’re just looking and move on.
A few minutes later you are at the swimwear store a few doors down only to notice the shoe salesperson flashing an inviting smile at you while holding the pair of shoes that you had been looking at. Weird, no? It gets weirder.
Fifteen minutes later you’re in line at the food court when, strangely enough, the same shoe salesperson is standing there kindly urging you to ditch your pizza and come back to his store buy the shoes.
Hopefully, this has never happened to you. And if it did, chances are that you would be so annoyed with the pesky salesperson that you would not buy the shoes, at least not from that store.
Well, this sort of stalking happens millions of times a day on the internet under the guise of what is ‘retargeting’, accurately defined in Wikipedia as the practice of serving ads to people more frequently after they have left an advertiser’s website.
And you would be so lucky if the salesperson left you alone after the pizza
incident. Try shaking Zappos.com off of your tail after visiting the site. Chances
are that you will be seeing Zappos ads anywhere you go online for the next
In a recent article published on DigiDay, Greg Coleman, president of Criteo, a retargeting technology company, is quoted as saying, “The average click-through rate online for display ads is .07 percent and the average click-through for retargeted ads is about .7 percent.” Who can argue with results like that?
That said, the counterargument is for citizen’s privacy, the proverbial
pebble in the shoe of digital advertising. The same article quotes Jeffrey
Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy, as saying
that “Retargeting is an intrusive form of user surveillance that requires
regulation. Digitally shadowing consumers for online targeting is an unfair — and
undemocratic — process.
So, which side are you on? As with most arguments related to digital
advertising, my guess is that it all depends on for whom you work and
whether or not you value privacy. Let us know what you think!