Shades of 'Fatal Attraction'

In a few days, my new Persol sunglasses will arrive. They are merely obscenely expensive -- as opposed to immorally expensive -- because I shopped for them very hard. It was an expedition across the Internet, touching down in five countries on three continents and focusing on at least five of the brand’s 100-plus styles.

Did I say expedition? No, it was so much more. It was a journey… a journey of discovery.

One of the things I discovered is that while I am constantly complaining about having no time to do the things I need to do in my work and family lives, I managed to find seven solid hours for sunglasses shopping. This to save $150 over the local mall price. (If you do the arithmetic, that amounts to $21.40 an hour, which is what a Canadian night-shift welding-shop laborer fetches or a mental-health community services specialist in San Jose, Calif. Please understand that I am a major, major multimediocrity, and those positions -- though I am qualified for neither -- are below my pay grade. So the sunglasses hunt was not a great value proposition.)



But a journey isn’t about the destination, is it?

Okay -- most of the time a journey is exactly about the destination, but who am I to argue with the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, not to mention countless tattoos and fortune cookies? Let’s just say it was an experience that will never leave me.

No. Really…never. Because everyplace I go on the World Wide Web, the sunglasses are following me. Like a bad penny or a very good National Security Agency. In the ad industry this practice of following a shopper’s digital footprints is known as “retargeting.” Elsewhere it is known simply as stalking.

Yo, creepy dude with the sunglasses, please leave me the hell alone.

Nope, I go to to read about Gov. Chris Christie’s dubious use of federal Sandy recovery funds, and there are my sunglasses.  I go to The New York Times to learn about the Malaysian pilot’s deleted flight simulator data, and there are my sunglasses. I go to about Crimea, to the Associated Press about the Comcast-Time Warner merger, to the Washington Post about the Megamillions jackpot, to BloombergBusinessweek com about Internet governance, to about pitching ace Cole Hamels’ tired left arm…there they are.

A damn fine-looking pair of sunglasses, distinctive and cool without being so obnoxiously Italian chic that someone will want to punch me in the face. But excuse me, WORLD OF INTERNET COMMERCE: I BOUGHT THEM ALREADY. THEY ARE RIGHT NOW WINGING THEIR WAY FROM ISRAEL. I HAVE THE RECEIPT TO PROVE IT. SO PLEASE STOP SELLING ME AN ITEM I ALREADY OWN.  I BEG YOU.

Not only are all these e-retailers wasting their own money, they are ruining my journey of discovery. I really fell in love with those sunglasses. (Not spiritual forever love. Not donating a kidney/cleaning up vomit love. But definitely a long period of “Oh, how I want you in front of my eyes” love.) But already the glow is fading. In fact, I’m getting sick of looking at the damn things.

Seems to me that the same data mining that allows marketers to see where I’ve been can inform them that a transaction has taken place. As long as these people are leaving cookies on my browser, can’t they add a crumb that says, in effect, “dead end?” Or, as the old saying goes, “I gave at the office.”

Weirdly, the one place I have visited on the internet that has not tried to retarget me is the world’s dominant e-tailer, Those people have more data than anyone, yet they have made zero attempt to interest me in my sunglasses or anything in the entire eyewear category.  No, they have followed me around the Web, taken note of my site visits, crunched the numbers of my transactions, and repeatedly served me an ad for a consumer packaged good that offers not a whiff of Italian designer chic:

Quilted Northern toilet paper. Ultra plush, of course. Silkier than ever.


13 comments about "Shades of 'Fatal Attraction'".
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  1. Juliette Cowall from Godwin Plumbing & Hardware, March 31, 2014 at 9:12 a.m.

    If you researched using different sites, but bought them from only one site, how are the other sites supposed to know that you already bought them? However, if the site you bought them from is stalking you, that's a concern.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 31, 2014 at 9:43 a.m.

    Do Not Track would work here...and more there and for a litany of other reasons. But this is not a new phenomena in the history of on line sales. and Trip Advisor keeps sending me hotels in places from where I have returned years ago.

  3. George Parker from Parker Consultants, March 31, 2014 at 10:07 a.m.

    But isn't this obvious? All this bullshit about data is simply an extension of the smoke & mirrors, snake oil, that we in the Adverati have relied on to confuse clients for years. It used to be "Branding." God forbid you should confuse that with sales. Now it is "likes - pokes - conversations." With data, we can now better target potential customers, even when they are no longer potential customers... And we still haven't acknowledged that finding them is half the task... Convincing them to purchase is the most important part... And it's something data can't do for you.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  4. Ed Shane from SHANE MEDIA SERVICES, March 31, 2014 at 11:14 a.m.

    At least you're being folowed by elegant sunglasses. I'm stalked by fuzzy slippers since I helped my wife search for a new pair. She finally bought them at a brick and mortar Macy's.

  5. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, March 31, 2014 at 11:49 a.m.

    Ok there are really two issues here: one is tha you are being tracked *pervasively* and the other is that you are being bombarded *invasively*, with information that is no longer relevant. That is the real problem with retargeting...that truly bothers people, but they often complain about both with equal amounts of irritation. You are just one cookie clear away from being anonymous again.
    What the sunglasses company should do, and will do, is retarget you with the interesting, relevant content they have been creating over the last 12 months on their blog that fits your fancy Israeli aviator lifestyle. I bet within 12 months retargeting will be about 50 percent ads and 50 percent content. Then, if your product choices reflect and align with your interests, you won't mind the stalking quite so much.

  6. Jon Bouman from Tipping Point Media, March 31, 2014 at 11:53 a.m.

    They should be using frequency caps.

  7. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, March 31, 2014 at 12:41 p.m.

    Problem is for the next few months everywhere you go on future "journeys," sunglass offers will pop up at you as you are permanently in the sunglass shopping target audience. Everywhere when you least expect it and then when you most expect it, there will be sunglass offers. This is what makes anti-social media the fun thing it is.

  8. L Stevens from LMMS, March 31, 2014 at 12:50 p.m.

    Thank You for highlighting! Cookies cleared religiously/ shrunk online footprint considerably/ name it... YET spent 2013 travelling overseas and STILL getting hit aggressively pushing places & deals we already went/ booked/ left - - from both - providers we only searched AND those actually booked and paid. [Hotels/ airlines/ websites/ attractions - searched or booked up to 17 mos ago... over and over and over...]

    Repeat sunglasses annoyance: 'been there/ done that/ I'm home now/ please leave me alone!'

    Uncomfortable topic highlighted: so much waste in online ad industry. A group of us will be launching a small new SMB advisory soon bc of these trends. SMBs need to understand the reality of what 'ad strategy' and 'data' mean to their very lean budgets... Generic re-targeting is not the panacea. Deep pockets can play - SMBs can't. It may sound obvious to the wheelhouse, yet no one is taking time to differentiate (or own up to) the finer nuances of effective use.

    Potentially elegant advertising solutions usually end up as a hodge-podge of the right elements/ wrong formulas...

    [And apparently in a recent shift, some mystery action triggered a barrage of 'become a nurse' ads in my email UI. So along side repeat-destination hotel and airline deals. another advertiser will see 0 return on ad dollars spent.]

  9. Andrew Jackson from Sensible Strategies Consulting, March 31, 2014 at 3:07 p.m.

    Bob, Loved your comments on retargeting. Lately I'm getting ads for women's underwear, Caterpillar earthmoving equipment, the usual computer games and motorcycle insurance. My recent online searches have been for a book about Australian Aborigines, and adjustable-height computer desk, a heat recovery kitchen ventilator, Amtrak tickets and a Celtic music CD. What am I doing wrong? Or are online advertisers wasting 99% of their ad budgets online?

  10. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, March 31, 2014 at 5:08 p.m.

    oops ... I was just curious about all of the "local momma looking for fat old guys" e mails... just curious, and now every computer broadcasts my "curiosity" to all of my co-workers ... thank goodness my home desktop is clean... hold on a sec....oh no dear I have no idea why those banners are on the screen...oh boy...

  11. Al Haberstroh from MontAd, March 31, 2014 at 8:46 p.m.

    Your experience is just an example of stupid use of an available tactic. Stupid use of media tactics have been going on long before the internet even existed. In my opinion, retargeting is a fools tactic for a specific product promotion but can have value as part of a larger campaign to build brand recognition with a contextually relevant audience.

  12. Karen Ticktin from brandthis, April 1, 2014 at 10:50 a.m.

    It is a highly annoying and somewhat 'big brother' tactic. I hope the marketers deploying it are wasting a lot of money.

  13. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, April 2, 2014 at 9:18 a.m.

    Yep. Booked a hotel in Iowa City for an upcoming stay and have been bombarded with ads for that very hotel AS IF I am going to keep booking rooms halfway across the country.

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