Peter VanRysdam / Marketing / September 14th, 2011

Are Targeted Display Ads a Waste of Money?

I think it was Michael Jackson who said “I always feel like somebody’s watching me.” I recently renovated my house, and part of the process involved buying new light fixtures. My wife and I found some things we liked in stores, but were able to find better prices online. I found a site through the search engines, found the product I needed, and made the purchase. It was a very easy process. But then things got weird…and annoying. Over the next few days and weeks, it seemed like every site I visited had a display ad for the lighting site I’d visited. Even creepier is the ad simply consisted of the site’s logo and images of three products. They happened to include the two products I’d purchased as well as a third I’d accidentally clicked on when browsing the site. After clicking on the “why am I seeing this” link tucked in the corner of the ad, I read about how I was targeted, with assurances no personally identifiable information was stored. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and this post isn’t about an invasion of my privacy. I actually like the idea of ads that are more relevant to me. But that wasn’t the case here. Remember, I already bought the lights! Proving this wasn’t a fluke, I registered for a conference called SMX east. I’m actually at the conference this week, learning a bunch about personalized search results within Bing and Google, among other things. I registered for the conference about a month ago, and continued to see ads for said conference right up until last week, when I’m sure the conference chose to end their ad buy. To make things worse, the example below actually shows ads for both sites! And yes, I won that game. SMX display ad Why am I seeing this ad? Yes, I’m interested in the conference. That’s why I registered. What is the point of continuing the ads? I guess they wanted to make sure I didn’t forget to actually show up. But in all seriousness, they wasted money on me. Seeing the ads didn’t reaffirm my decision to buy, as other ads might have. Instead it annoyed me. I understand that a higher percentage of visitors to the lighting site or the conference didn’t end their visit with a purchase. I get that a targeted ad might remind them to return to the items in their cart. But at the end of the day, I know the advertising company is smart enough to see, through their cookie, that I not only visited the site, but that I visited the order confirmation page. That action alone should opt me out of future ads. If you ask me, they don’t provide that feature because frankly they make more money from the advertiser by showing me the ad many more times. Another alternative to opting out purchasers would be to serve different ads to potential customers versus existing ones. Going back to the lamp site, I don’t have a need for the same light I just bought. But a lighting purchase isn’t necessarily a one-time thing. I might want a matching floor lamp to go with my pendant. I might need installation tools. Or, better yet, I might be a good person to target a few months down the road. As for the conference, I don’t need to be encouraged to check out their site after committing to a four-figure ticket. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a good candidate for ads. Why not ask me to share the conference with my social networks? Why not try to upsell me on hotels, sponsorship packages, or any other things other than what I already bought? Another idea would be to wait until after the conference and advertise next year’s event to me (or in the case of SMX, the next event later this year). Ask me to tell them about my experience at the event. I’m going on and on, but that just reiterates the point that there are options of better ways to advertise. So what do you think? Are targeted display ads annoying to you? Are they creepy? Do you use them? Better yet, do you continue to patronize the brands that do? And if you do find them creepy, here is the site to opt-out of all the companies that provide these types of ads: