So, today in random news I recently decided to become a supporter on the Guardian. The BBC’s continuous pandering to the royals has been pissing me off more than usual lately (newsflash: I’m anti royal family) and I’ve found that the Guardian has actually replaced the BBC as my go-to “let’s check in on how screwed up the world is today” destination.

I noticed the message on the site today asking me to sign up (not that I’ve not seen it before, but still) and after discovering that it now costs less than an annual Playstation Plus subscription I thought hey, why the hell not. They accept Paypal as well, which is always nice as it saves me having to hunt down my card from wherever the pugs have randomly dragged my purse today, so that’s one conversion barrier neatly bypassed. In fact the whole signup was pretty slick and smooth, on par with an Amazon checkout but without the hustle.

Of course after something so profoundly adult-ish on a Saturday afternoon I went back to writing fanfiction like a normal lunatic, which for various reasons led me to the always-invaluable This site is on my adblocking whitelist because a) it is genuinely useful so I don’t mind the creator earning from it and b) its advertising is discreet and doesn’t make the site entirely unusable in the process.

Now given that I had, no more than one quarter of an hour earlier, literally just counted myself as an onsite conversion (and from organic, no less) for The Guardian, I was rather surprised to be greeted by this (on the Viking Name Generator page, if you must know, but that’s not really the point):

Guardian Display Advertising FailUm. Open another tab, check email…nope, there’s the subscription confirmation, right in my inbox.

I wish I could say this is the first time I’ve seen this sort of thing, or even that it was the first time I’ve had it happen so painfully obviously to me. I can’t, of course. Not even close.

All together now, boys and girls: don’t target your converters just after they convert.

Aside from the fact that this is a wasted bid effort, not to mention inventory that could have far more usefully gone to someone else, this kind of “haunting” effect is the sort of thing that can really alienate today’s web-savvy consumers to a brand. Now I work in digital marketing so I can just sigh, roll my eyes, rant on my blog and move on with my life without any real change in my sentiments to the Guardian as a journalistic entity, but the average web user does not (gasp) work in this field.

On the whole, consumers don’t like ads. They tolerate them. It’s just a fact of marketing life. But tolerance levels go sharply down and irritation goes sharply up when ads are irrelevant, too persistent, interfere with whatever the user was trying to do in the first place (I’m looking at you, YouTube pre-roll) or are otherwise just poorly targeted.

Say, for example, by trying to sell a user something they bought less than fifteen minutes ago.

Now remarketing, properly handled, is an immensely powerful tool. So, frankly, is display prospecting when done correctly. I would never in a million years suggest that a brand abandons its display/RTB efforts provided the appropriate KPIs look good and brand safety is assured (check your white and blacklists folks – is really where you want your high end luxury name appearing?) so no need to start setting fires just yet.

But please, please turn your brain on and think when setting up your targeting options. I’m by no means claiming this is always as simple as finding a decent Viking name generator in the riches of the internet – Mona Elesseily’s excellent article about GDN targeting and layering is a great read, if nothing else to show how complex just this single network can be to sort out properly – but since when was something only worth doing if it was easy?

Rakuten Marketing recently ran some surveys around online advertising and amongst the other interesting (and worrying) things they discovered was that a whole bunch of people around the world associate ads with “other negative online experiences like fake news.”

Awkward. Especially for this particular example!

While the immediate “last click” ramifications of such an advertising faux pas may seem insignificant to the point of ridiculousness, in today’s ever-more-crowded online marketplace it is critical to realise that brand preference and good, old-fashioned, squishy feelings play more of a factor than ever before. Yes, you got the conversion right now, but if you continue to stalk your new customer with crappily-targeted display creatives you’re not only going to piss them off but alienate them to your brand and very potentially lose them as a customer in the near – if not immediate – future.

Given how much it probably cost you, considering all touchpoints and appropriate channel attribution, to acquire that customer in the first place, doing something that actively drives down their lifetime value to your business is so far beyond stupid that it can barely see stupid in the distance.

I may forgive the Guardian its little whoops moment because I know the struggle (and really enjoyed their recent article about tardigrades), but the vast majority of users will be far less generous!

Besides, every time you advertise unnecessarily to a recent converter a kitten gets brutally shot by a floating hand.

Don't Kill Kittens

Isn’t that reason enough to sort out your targeting strategy?

Edit 16th August 2017 – someone just sent me the below message on Facebook in response to my sharing of this post. Case in point, much? 🙁

Bad Retargeting

Aaand someone else sent me this over Slack as well (the booking he made was for next week, and they’re already trying to get him to book again). Shocking.

More Bad Retargeting

Anyone else have any classic retargeting failures they’d like to share – especially ones that alienated them from the brand in question?

Photo Credit: Simon Launay

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