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Recently, I was debating a purchase from CSN Stores of a hanging corner bookcase, but wasn’t entirely sure it would go with my décor, so I decided to just put it in my shopping cart and come back to it later. Then, the next day, as I was listening to my latest playlist on Grooveshark, there it was! That same bookcase appeared in a CSN Stores ad on the right side of my screen, along with the two rugs I had contemplated buying the week before!

What was going on?! Was it sheer coincidence, or was my PC stalking me, trying to tell me that my life would be empty without that bookcase hanging in my living room?  I decided the latter and bought the bookcase. I’ve seen ads pop-up before for general areas of interest that I had done searches on (in this case, furniture), but I had never seen ads for specific products I had viewed. Since my startling realization that my computer was stalking me, I actually discovered that this tricky little technique is what advertising folk call personalized retargeting or remarketing. This technique isn’t new, but has certainly become more precise as of late.

And apparently, I’m not the only one who has noticed this increasingly targeted marketing strategy. A recent New York Times article highlights how a pair of shoes followed Julie Matlin around the Web after she contemplated buying them on Zappos. The same article notes that, “In the digital advertising business, this form of highly personalized marketing is being hailed as the latest breakthrough because it tries to show consumers the right ad at the right time.”

Breakthrough or not, companies will have to decide carefully if this is something they want to start implementing since there’s been concern over privacy issues. As consumers recognize these personalized retargeting ads, many are also coming to the conclusion that this means there’s some kind of commercial surveillance system watching their every move as they browse the online shopping aisles. In reality, this technique only uses cookies (a common online tracking text file – not the delicious baked good – used for things like advertising, authentication, and storing site preferences or shopping cart contents), but, nevertheless, can make consumers feel uneasy as products follow them around the Web.

It’ll be interesting to see which companies put retargeting ads in place and which opt out as the technique catches on. What do you think; is this kind of marketing creepy or effective?


This post was first published by Meredith L. Eaton on March Communications’ blog, PR Nonsense, and may be viewed here.