Advertising Technology

The Opt-Out Box: Do you want to see personalized advertising from this merchant in the future?

If you’ve been shopping online lately it’s probably safe to assume that while you surf the web you are being bombarded with online advertisements from retailers that you have either visited or made purchases from. With recent Cyber Monday sales pulling in nearly $1.5 billion, and RTB density doubling during this stretch, it’s likely that you’re seeing a few more re-targeted ads than you were before this big online shopping holiday. I would imagine in many cases those ads are very relevant especially those where you abandoned the buying process due to lack of time. That being said, in some cases I would wager a guess that they are frustrating you with irrelevant ads, or making you feel like you’re being followed.

I recently purchased some children’s toys for my nephew from a major online retailer for the holidays. This is a one time only purchase, and I have no intention of buying children’s toys again, any time soon. However, since that initial purchase, I’ve been re-targeted with banner ads for sales on action figures and coloring books. My online experience has been overrun by offers that are completely irrelevant to me as a consumer and the retailer has effectively been wasting ad dollars to target me.

As a consumer, I am presented with notice through the ad choices icon on these advertisements, which is a good thing and certainly puts us in a better place than we were say, this time last year. However when I follow through the process, the easiest option I have at my disposal to suppress these ads is to opt out of all targeted advertising. This doesn’t help me, or the market at large, because in order to avoid one undesirable circumstance I have to give up all other circumstances where targeted advertising would be of benefit.

The problem—and in my view the solution—begins at the initial purchase. While there is usually a small check box in the fine print when you checkout asking you if you would like to have e-newsletters or personalized offers sent to your inbox, why not also have a box to uncheck if you do not want to see personal advertising from “this merchant” in the future? This would not be a difficult task for most retailers to implement and would ultimately provide consumers with the choice of a better online ad experience. Implementation could purely be optional, but I suspect that this would catch on especially if rolled out over a length of time long enough to assess customer complaints before and after. The key is that choice would be proactive, and would happen ahead of perceived problems rather than reactive after the fact. This is also an easy way to help quiet some privacy concerns that marketers have been dealing with of late.

Marketing automation techniques that set out to increase efficiency without focusing on strategically adding value to the customer or building a dialog will rarely convince the casual shopper to convert. Relevancy should always take priority over frequency. This will ultimately create a more loyal and productive relationship with your customers that should in turn lead to higher long-term and more productive results. It might also help curb impending privacy driven limitations either technical (ie. IE10 auto DNT) or regulatory that stand to hurt a lot more.

Returning and repeat purchasers provide a significant portion of revenue for online retailers. To maintain and grow this relationship I firmly believe as we progress forward it is going to be increasingly important that marketers provide consumers with an easy opt-out option for remarketing right in the purchase process, just as they do today for e-marketing. If a user is being displayed banner ads for something they have no interest in purchasing, there is no reason to market to them, and you’ll effectively save money in the process. Not all customers are the same, and just because one might have bought an over-sized teddy bear on Cyber Monday, doesn’t mean they’re going to be doing so again – at least not until next December.

Give your customers the choice.

  • Kevin

    Andrew, I enjoyed reading your post and agree that the more the industry can do for the consumer, the better off it’ll be.

    Advertisers and ad tech should spend time working on advertising to those users who are actually interested in hearing more from a particular advertiser. This could also raise the value of that impression. I’m curious as to technically how you might solve this problem? Is this entirely cookie based where the end user will loose all their hard work of opting out from particular advertisers as soon as they clear their cookies?

    • Andrew Casale

      The impetus for an idea like this is to avoid the end result you described – that the user either opts out of all advertising or clears their cookies – because they want to get rid of a few undesirable scenarios that should have ideally been prevented in the first place.

      The implementation of this could be incredibly simple. The retailer could simply fire a pixel upon checkout if the box was unchecked that would signal any retargeter they are using not to bid on that cookie. These “negative targeting pixels” already exist for scenarios where users are recurring members (ie. a bank), and the actual implementation would be trivial – just a pixel coded to fire upon checkout.