Retargetting. It’s not all that it’s hyped up to be.

I have a confession to make. A lot of my browsing on the net is online shopping. I put loads of stuff in my virtual cart and there it lies until it goes out of stock. Never to be actually ordered or paid for.  It could be books, pottery, paintings, cotton kurtas, silver earrings, household furniture, overpriced exotic foods, or even more books.

Up to this point, online shopping is simply a blameless occupation that eats into productive time and helps me procrastinate on ongoing projects.

The sinister undertones of this harmless activity are that google is gathering data and based on my browsing history they have slotted me into a neat little compartment with what I imagine is lakhs of other people who live around my geographical area. They have for all practical purposes passed judgment. On my character, personality, education level, mental state,…you name it. And sold that data to advertisers across all genres.

With the result when I actually seek information from Google, browse social media, or even read online news, I am followed by the ghost of that bright red cotton kurta in one of my shopping carts.  While searching for information on how to get rid of the virus that has infected my hacked site, I see ads asking me to buy server space from rival companies.

The sites I visit don’t know that I put the washing machine on the steam cycle and all my underwear lost its elasticity. What they do know however is that I was browsing for new underclothes. For a change, instead of leaving stuff in the basket I actually went ahead and paid for it, it was delivered the next day. And as I sit here in my new underwear, I have to bear the brunt of my misdeeds. Everywhere I go on the net, all manners of underclothes leap across my screen, screaming buy me.

This is not the only time it’s happened. Immediately after I returned from a 4 day trip to Ireland, ads for where to stay, what to eat, where to go start following me around as I navigated the internet.

Hello advertisers, you are wasting your Ad dollars and Rupees on me. And hello clients – those thousands of impressions that you read about in your digital marketing reports are to people like me. Google and Facebook need to improve their AI and machine learning tools. But most importantly, media planners need to start generalising less and targetting better. Retargeting works only if it’s done with thought and planning. So get out of auto mode and start planning your retargeting campaign.

There has got to be a better way.