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Letter By A Cookie About Retargeting (How Retargeting Works?)

Letter By A Cookie About Retargeting (How Retargeting Works?)
Letter By A Cookie About Retargeting (How Retargeting Works?)
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Hello, world!

I am Cookie. Don’t confuse me with the cookie your granny makes and hides in the jar. I am the cookie that hides in your browser . I live in the virtual world, the world you love and most probably live in, more than the real one.

In crude terms, I am just a small .txt file by a web page and left in your web browser to quietly sit there and observe what you do in the virtual world. I do that by watching and keeping a tab on what pages you visit and what you do on those pages. When my creator wants the information, I like the angel I am, pass on that information to him.

You must be wondering if my life is so simple and I rather have no complaints about my job (like you all), why have I come out with this open letter?

The answer is I feel used and in a rather wrong way. In fact, I feel violated.

I accept this is not the first time I have been used in a way I wasn’t intended to. Hackers have been after me all my life. They have done nasty and terrible things using the information I save, but they are hackers, they are meant to do things in the grey. I have made my peace with that somehow.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”#D85852″ class=”” size=””]I am talking about Retargeting or Remarketing. From what I understand, it is targeting users with one ad, all over the internet.[/pullquote]This is different; it’s time I come out and speak about how marketers use me in a way that turns out to be intrusive, irrelevant and in some cases poignant for innocent internet users. Remember the time when you viewed the tuxedos for your upcoming prom and eventually did not end up buying it because no one agreed to go with you? Days later after the prom you kept seeing that very tuxedo on sites where you went to catch up on exam notes, listened to music and even your social network. I know the frustration my friend, that was retargeting and you, my poor soul, were the victim!

I have numerous other stories of people I know, of people I store information about and how marketers used that information to retarget them again and again with the same ad until they gave up! There are a few stories that I remember quite vividly:

Story#1: The broken heart and a wedding dress: Path Retargeting gone wrong

retargeting gone wrong

There was a girl. One of the cutest I knew. She went on a dating site to find someone for her.Things were going really well. I know because I saw her searching for a wedding dress, I think she liked one as well.

But then something happened between them. They weren’t chatting anymore. She no more looked at that wedding dress. I don’t know what happened, but I sensed they weren’t together anymore.

And then my marketing friends at the dress label also knew and started using this information to retarget her. She was trying hard to get her mind off things – by reading stuff, by looking for projects, by doing a number of random things. But all she could see was the wedding dress she couldn’t have anymore.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#D85852″ class=”” size=””]Moral Of The Story- Stop using the same path file to keep targeting users! It hurts them. Sometimes the path is nothing but a reminder of pain.[/pullquote]

Story#2: An embarrassed dad and a ravishing lingerie: String retargeting is a tricky business

Remarketing funny

This was a funny one. So, there was this boy, he was one of those naughty ones, it’s amazing how much you can tell about a person just from his browsing history. It wasn’t long ago he had found a girl. Do you know how I know that? Because you don’t buy lingerie for your friend.

He added a ravishing one in his ‘wishlist’ and started saving for it while the lingerie waited there. One fine day, his dad came to him to book tickets for his next trip. As a ritual, he opened all the leading travel aggregators to look at the minimum price offered.

Then came the awkward moment, they would not forget ever. Remember the ravishing lingerie he added in that cart? All 4 travel websites showed pictorial ads of lingeries, waiting to be purchased.

From that day on, there was one more thing I couldn’t forget apart from user data, the faces of both father and son.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#D85852″ class=”” size=””]Moral Of The Story- Storing string data is a very tricky task. People may have seen a product but that necessarily doesn’t mean they wish to see it everywhere and with everyone. Spare them from that horror.[/pullquote]

Story#3: A girl in pain and a poignant reminder: Long term cookies and lost context

remarketing gone wrong

I hate to even recall this one. This was the saddest of all.

There was this girl who wanted to gift the best possible present for her mother on Mother’s Day. The way she meticulously selected every gift for her mother, it was so adorable.

Meanwhile, over the next month, her searches shifted to “cure for Cancer at Stage 4″. Another month passed and then she started reading on “how to get over the grief of losing a loved one.”

I traveled through her life through her browsing history.

However, the marketer friends of mine, how little they knew or cared! They kept showing her discounts on Mother’s Day gift. Everywhere and anywhere she went.

This happened to the extent that she started searching for how to block ads. She did not come online for a very long time. I guess it was her mom. I still feel bad for being a part of something like this. I wish the story wasn’t true. I wish it had a better ending.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#D85852″ class=”” size=””]Moral Of The Story- Targeting or re-targeting based on long term cookies loses context after a certain period of time. Out of context marketing can be worse than even no marketing and that is what happened in the story above.[/pullquote]

The alternate (happy) endings – On-site retargeting

Everyone, even cookies are a sucker for happy endings. Don’t you wish the girl in Story#1 should have got her space and nobody intruded her with the wedding dress. While the lingerie one turned out to be funny for us but they would also have liked to be less embarrassed. And I cannot even put in words how sad it was for the poor girl in the 3rd story.

I kept contemplating on that and one fine day I made this friend, WebEngage. I told all these stories to him and he listened to all of them with empathy. And then he told me, “Do you know, every story could have been different, even while using me (cookies) for retargeting? The way to achieve context and capture intent is Onsite Retargeting.”

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#D85852″ class=”” size=””]Onsite Retargeting is targeting the users with ads and messages while they are on your own website.[/pullquote]He further added,”Onsite Retargeting is targeting the users with ads and messages while they are on your own website. The intent of the user in such a case is quite clear and hence the targeting makes much more sense and results in a better conversion rate.

The way to do it is simple. While my marketer friends gain information from me about users and target them on a large number of relevant and irrelevant websites, they could use the same data to target the users on their own website, which surprisingly, they don’t!”

Then he led me to its website to show me how onsite retargeting would have changed all 3 stories for good:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#D85852″ class=”” size=””]I hope my marketer friends get to understand that while they follow the users all over the internet, they don’t where its obvious.[/pullquote]If the girl in Story#1 got into a new relationship, she would also come back to your website, searching for the wedding dress she once loved. Help her get there, by showing a retargeted ad on your homepage, taking her directly to that dress.

Similarly for the boy with the lingerie in wishlist. Remind him about the limited inventory of that particular lingerie. Create an urgency by telling him that demands are high and it may run out of stock, pretty soon.

And for the poor girl. Let her be. Give her the time and space she requires. Not every opportunity is worth marketing. When time would heal all her wounds, she will probably return to your website. Maybe for newer reasons, maybe show her the hotel ads when she is booking her next trip.

I couldn’t thank WebEngage enough for easing the guilt and pain I felt throughout. We have been great friends ever since and have been finding better ways to retarget people using me.

To more stories and better endings! And more bonding in this coming year.


Content Marketer, 


As a Content Strategist at WebEngage, Rohit spearheads content initiatives for both external and internal audience of the company. He also liasons between PR companies and WebEngage, and educates WebEngage clients with timely product updates. He has been a contributor to a number of blogs and likes to write about CRO, SaaS and Mobile.

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