The Effectiveness Of Slightly Creepy Retargeting

“…Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.”  Paul Simon

ClownsRecently, my extremely smart colleague Susan Waldes did an interview with Jessica on this blog and Susan made the following statement:

“Great remarketing ads are smart about providing gentle and compelling reminders while being mindful not to overdo the ‘creepy’ factor and make users feel they are being stalked.”

Is Susan right?  Absolutely.  However, when everyone follows best practices, an opportunity exists for people to get extra notice by bending or “slightly breaking” the rules.  I would fully agree that it’s extremely annoying for a person to see the same creative from the same advertiser over and over again for 30 days just because the advertisers doesn’t use impression caps and bids too aggressively.

However, what if the advertiser changes their retargeting mindset to the following: Instead of looking at retargeting ad as a series of identical shots attempting to influence the prospect to come back to the website and make a purchase, they should look at retargeting as an ongoing dialog over the course of 1-30 days to attempt to capture the notice of prospective purchasers in a slightly unorthodox way.

So instead of communicating robotically to your sales prospects, consider the following approach:


Story / Serialization:  Hopefully, you have a large number of USP’s for your product or service.  Consider creating a unique retargeting campaign for each USP with the same audience and a daily impression cap of 1.  Make sure all the campaigns are bid at the same amount to insure consistent frequency in the messaging.  While you can’t insure which ads the person will see or when they’ll see them, over time they’ll be exposed to a variety of different messages from you that will all seem more fresh and unique than typical retargeting efforts.

Image ads:  Follow the same strategy with image ads.  Create a different campaign for each variation with a daily impression cap of 1 and identical bids.

Note that with a large variety of retargeting ads, some will be “better” and more effective than others.  You’re not going to always have your “best” ad in front of your audience each and every time but that’s totally OK.  In any ongoing dialogue, some parts of the conversation will be stronger and more relevant than others.  But, the visitor will see the quality and quantity of your serialized messaging during the entire retargeting period and evaluate the sum total of your efforts in considering whether to click back and ultimately buy from you.  They won’t just consider just an individual piece of your performance.

Breaking Down The Fourth Wall:  Typical online advertising efforts, even successful ones, respect the artificial boundary between advertiser and audience.  At their core, even if advertisers use terms like “You”, they’re depersonalized efforts because though the advertisers might be talking “to” the potential customer, they’re really talking “at” them with product features and benefits.

At the risk of creeping a few people out, try one variant of your image ad with your typical sales messaging but replace your graphic with something along the lines of:


Or, take your typical sales image and rotate in “unexpected” text that’s close to your typical messaging but that’s “off” enough whereby the visitor might have a WTF reaction and wish to investigate further by clicking through to your website.

Try the same for your text retargeting ads.  As an example, if PPC Associates were running retargeting ads for our paid search services and we believe that people might have seen our “traditional” messaging enough times,
we might change it up with something like:


Which happens to be “typical” sales messaging machine-translated into Chinese.  Our English speaking visitors who might be familiar with our brand might get “thrown” by the offbeat presentation of messaging and decide to investigate further by clicking through to our site.

So in closing, the key to a successful remarketing strategy is getting noticed amidst all the other “conventional” advertisers.  Being a little “creepy” or unusual might just be the ticket to getting your visitors back to your site and closing the sale.

Todd Mintz, who has been with PPC Associates since March 2011, has worked in search engine marketing since 2000 and has used Google AdWords since it began. He also is very visible in the SEM social media space and is a curator/contributor at MarketingLand. He was one of the founding members of SEMpdx (Portland’s Search Engine Marketing Group), is a current board member, and writes regularly on their blog. Find and connect with him on Google+.

See Todd's author page for links to connect on social media.

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One Reply to “The Effectiveness Of Slightly Creepy Retargeting”

This is interesting information, and it’s certainly one of the more original ideas I’ve heard in the last few weeks. I particularly liked the section about breaking down the 4th wall. Now that you mention it, I have been pulled in myself by tactics like those lately. I might give that a try myself very soon, though perhaps with something a bit less off-putting than zombie hickeys.


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