Will Search + Social Yield Better Advertising Experience For All?

As long-time readers of this column know, there are few things I detest more than retargeting. Though it’s not quite up there with climate change denialists, my hatred of stalker ads is on a par with Bitcoin and reading about Maureen Dowd’s close encounter with edible marijuana. That’s still a relatively high bar.

It’s not a conceptual complaint, but an executional one. Make the mistake of going to a site of an advertiser that uses clumsy retargeting and you may find yourself doomed, for a month or two anyway.

This happened to me most recently when my ten-year-old was in pursuit of leopard-patterned knee-high Chuck Taylors. (Yes, they actually exist.) Despite being very specific about what she wanted, nonetheless, this took a lot of searching -- at least to find them for a low, low $22. For weeks after that, it’s surprising that I didn’t have dreams I was being chased by them, as many of the shoe retailers of the world -- though not Converse, from which I eventually bought them -- seemed to train every ad dollar they had on hunting me down. They were everywhere, even though the shoes had been purchased, and delivered to my doorstep, weeks ago.

Then there's what happens when you drop in on a site in a much more casual fashion, which happens often -- to me, anyway. Having once visited a site for a few seconds or two, only to be targeted for weeks afterward, adds a degree of randomness that’s even worse.

As these retargeted ads have entered social, it’s become even more annoying. It’s because, relatively speaking, the social networks we frequent have become sacred spaces. It’s one thing to have such an ad served up on some lame-o news site that you happen to drop by; it’s entirely another to have those same shoe ads stomping through your NewsFeed.

Which is why -- and perhaps, on the surface, this seems counterintuitive -- I’m pretty happy about the news out of Kenshoo this week. If you haven’t read it yet, the ad technology company is bringing search advertising and social advertising closer together, with -- one hopes -- more accuracy for all. Essentially, what the new product, called Intent-Driven Audiences, does, is use search data to further inform ads served on Facebook. If a user clicks on a Kenshoo-served ad on any search engine, it triggers a cookie match with Facebook that helps advertisers target more precisely.

As we all know, search is the most intent-based activity there is on the Internets -- beyond chasing down content trolls -- so this is the beginning of something big. “We’re the first ones to go market with that, but others will follow,” says Doug Chavez, Kenshoo’s global head of marketing research and content.

The icing on the cake for me is that soon, according to Chavez, IDA will be able to issue the ad targeting version of a cease-and-desist; as is currently the case with Kenshoo’s Facebook Exchange offering, it will stop serving you ads once you’ve bought a product.

Perhaps, in putting a bright line between search-driven targeting and other forms of targeting, I’m splitting hairs here. But, I wouldn’t be writing about this now if I didn’t see a clear difference. For one, to misappropriate a term used by Sheryl Sandberg, search is the ultimate lean-in online behavior; it’s as behavioral as it gets. Second, what seems to bother many people most about targeting isn’t targeting, it’s bad targeting. It’s stopping by a site once and being haunted by it, or being chased by an advertiser long after you’ve left the sales funnel.

I can’t say for sure whether this will make the overall advertising experience on Facebook better, and I can’t say that it have would stopped the online march of the leopard print high-tops. Too much depends on the tools and methodologies used by individual advertisers to make that claim. I can say this, though: If the marketing industry is ever to make good on its claim that a world with relevant advertising is a better one, this is an important step toward that goal.

(A quick and entirely unrelated note to those who volunteered last week to join Snapchat et al with me after reading my column: I’ll be in touch. Busy week!)

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