Online Targeted Advertising Still Isn’t Very Good

In theory, one of the benefits of the Internet for businesses is the ability to precisely target potential customers based upon the personal details we so willingly hand over on sites like Facebook, along with online tracking of the sites we visit and the products we search out. For an exercise in just how creepy this capability is, spend a few minutes looking up a product on Amazon or Ebay. Don’t buy anything, but just wait about half an hour before you go online again. There’s a very high likelihood that advertisements for whatever product you were searching for will show up on many web sites you visit.

In practice, however, this target advertising doesn’t work very well and still produces wasted marketing dollars for businesses. Let me give two examples:

  • A few days ago, my daughter asked me to look at a variety of backpacks she was thinking of purchasing online. I quickly looked at four or five different links and provided my fatherly advise. Now almost every Internet site I visit today is populated with ads for backpacks. But I’m not interested in buying a backpack.
  • Earlier this year, I purchased a  percussion instrument for a drummer friend of mine. For weeks after the purchase, ads for the instrument appeared on virtually every web site I visited. But, again, the purchase decision had been made and completed long before (and by the way, I bought the item at my local music shop, not online). I don’t play percussion.
  • Last year, I purchased a piece of exercise equipment for my high school son. I researched the item online and ended up buying it on Amazon. Once again, for weeks, ads for the exact same item populated the web sites I visited. Hey, I already bought the thing–I don’t need any more!

These “targeted” ads are not so targeted. In each case they are promoting something I either don’t want or already purchased and don’t need any more of. For me, it’s a minor annoyance (and a reminder of the death of personal privacy in the Internet age).

For businesses, it’s wasted marketing dollars.


About Richard Wells

The Wellynn Group provides senior level counsel in marketing, communications, and public affairs. Hey, and we're nice people, too.
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