Yeah!!! Got a half page in the holy Brand Equity of the Economic Times today!!
Full produced article after the image...

So, let’s assume that you know a man, with a…errr… problem. You know the kind of problem I’m talking about. The one that happens in the bedroom; the one we all read about and say, “Thank God this hasn’t happened to me!” It's the problem that men develop when they have bad jobs, bad bosses, bad cars and bad everything. It's a bad problem that needs a Blue Pill.

But so what? God never made everyone equal and was quite unjust in distributing problems too. But man created the Internet which is equal for all of us! Well, at least for the most of us.

So, Mr. Problem confides in you. And in all earnestness, you ask him to “google around” to check out pharmacists and drug suppliers that can supply him the little Blue Pill - discreetly, couriered to his home, in innocuous brown packages and billed as “car repairs” (or cable repairs?!) on his credit card bill. (Obviously this is not the Cash on Delivery kind of delivery you would suggest).

Mr. Problem takes your advice and ‘browses’ around one lazy weekend, looking for Blue Pill options. He doesn't make any purchases, but at least gets the process going.

Then the mad week begins. And that's just when Mr. Problem begins to start calling you in absolute panic. Trembling over the phone he says, “Boss, I’m so embarrassed. On Monday, I was making a presentation to all the business heads and when I went up to a live website to showcase what our competition was doing, right on top, staring at me, in front of twelve people was this big broad ad selling me the Blue Pill. People began staring at me, instead of the projector screen. That idiot in sales even chuckled!”

The rambling continues… “At home, my wife ordered me to cook Palak Paneer and when I requested her to look up the recipe for me on my laptop, the Blue Pill ad popped right up at her. She just stared at me and asked, “Shall I print the recipe with the ad on it too?”

By the end of the week he almost sobs and says, “Bhai, I’m scared to go to the web now. What happens if the Blue Pill comes wherever I go? How on earth do I get rid of this menace?”

You console him and tell him that you will get back with some solutions – but in the bottom of your heart you know that your friend is a victim of the all pervasive, invasive and untiring method of Internet advertising best known as ‘retargeting’.

For those who were born before the 90s, let me explain what retargeting is. It's a web technology of placing cookies (not the ones that your ex-girlfriend’s mom made) on websites that consumers visit to buy things but then fail to complete the purchase. This usually happens at the checkout page, payment gateway options area etc., where the consumer ‘abandons’ the purchase mid-way despite having the intent to buy.

Now, unlike traditional shopping where you are free to browse around as many stores as you want and then walk out as a free bird, the Internet behaves differently. Once you ‘want’ to buy something, you are marked ‘WANTED’!

Let’s forget your friend for a moment. Think of the Blue Pill Company. It's a Big Fortune 500 Company! Why would someone of that stature pursue your friend like Inspector Pradyuman and his band of cronies (from the famous television show ‘CID’)…?

It's a matter of ‘Dhandha’ baba! Hard-hitting statistics reveal:

- Out of the 100 people who visit a web store to buy things, only 2% actually buy something. 98% leave empty handed

- When ‘retargeted’ ads are shown to consumers, 26% return to the original website they had abandoned vs. 8% who would return via normal ads. That's a three times more!

Seems fair and square? If you visit me, show intent to buy and then leave unannounced; then I have the right (or opportunity) to digitally stalk you..?

Amongst Marwaris, there is a phrase called ‘mota-moti’ (which means “the crux of”). So this is my mota-moti view of Retargeting:

- Respect your visitors. Stalking them endlessly will make them abhor you. My wife just complained to me that a Rohit Bal outfit she checked out on some e-com store chased her all over the web! She doesn't like Rohit Bal now !

- Warren Buffet famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.” I think, he would definitely include ‘retargeting’ in the “doing things differently” agenda!

- Don't do something because the technology exists. Do it only if it is natural, normal and creates joy for your consumer; not because it feeds the false ego of your marketing manager.

- Serendipity is a wonderful thing! Ask any shop keeper about ‘surprise’ customers who walk in and make heavy purchases, just by chance. So, advertise with a wish, not a curse!

Now, if you haven’t realized it by now, I have placed a retargeting cookie in your eyes just because you have read my article. That means every time I write again, you will be chased and hounded!

Haha! Just kidding!!


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Fantastic! with superb clarity as usual.Thx.

Alok--- Wonderful article. I love how you presented both the technology as well as the logic behind re-targeting ads in simple layman's terms. And I completely agree with your message re: respecting your visitors and not doing stupid things that will make them abhor you.

Now... just for kicks, I'd like to play Devil's Advocate here.  What if I happen to be the marketing manager (whose false ego we are trying NOT to satisfy) of the company that makes that little blue pill. Here is my dilemma:

  • My boss has given me a sales target that I just can't seem to meet through the normal (non re-targeting) advertising modes
  • The product I'm trying to sell is one that a lot of consumers are hesitant to purchase for a variety of reasons (like the ones you listed in this article), and hence I'm seeing a lot of abandoned purchases in a very similar manner like you described
  • The aggressive sales teams from Google, Facebook, etc had me convinced that re-targeting will help propel my sales to be where they need to be
  • But now, after reading your article, I am having second thoughts about it.

So what advice do you have for me? What can I do to help reduce abandoned purchases, and improve my sales, without stalking my customers???  Are there other, better options besides such re-targeting ads?


I saw this posted by Alok on Twitter and wanted to share my limited view.

I personally think, this is where the mobile promise has to be fulfilled. Mobile is such a beautiful personal device. It lets you have a personal conversation with the users. It doesnt embarrass you nor stalk you like on web and yet delivers amazing results for companies when used wisely. I personally like it a lot when companies try to talk to me in private and reach out to me with personalized message (that creates an illusion of exclusivity as well). 

Its a boon that Mobile doesnt support cookies and thus companies are forced to innovate and come up with different techniques to reach out to their users. A very simple yet amazingly powerful tool in mobile called "Notifications" has simply turned around the whole game. It directly gives a channel for companies to converse with their users rather than relying on third parties. There are proven metrics to say that notifications have turned out to be one of the most engaging mediums to send communication/messages to its users. 

Companies can now understand so much about their users behavior via mobile (like never before) and then use this massive information wisely to re-target in a private and non stalking mode. 

So, if you have a mobile app, I highly recommend to use tools that help you understand the user and converse with them via notifications for some brilliant results.  

Full Disclosure: I head a startup called Notiphi which is a mobile app engagement and relationship management platform. 

May I present a contrarian viewpoint ?

a. Every major advertising network worth its salt,  be it adwords, bing ads, or large vertical retargeting platforms like Adroll, et all strictly prohibit advertising of prescription drugs, anabolic steroids, DHEA, Ephedra, Human Growth Hormone (HGH), and similar substances so the blue pill scenario described is not really going to materialize in the first place!

b. In all fairness to the re-targeting/re-marketing technology, it comes with ample , multi-layer checks and balances to address the valid concerns correctly pointed out in the article. Some of the levers one can and SHOULD implement while implementing remarketing are:

  1. Set an appropriate cookie duration (number of days you’ll retarget them) relevant with your product offerings. For  products that have a shorter purchase cycle keep it short ( ex  7/14/30 days, etc); for products that have longer purchase cycles with multiple layers, you can keep it longer (60/90/180 days, etc). ( for some of our B2B products where an item can cost 50k-80K USD, we’ve cookied them for the max duration allowed, 540 days)

  2. Absolutely, enable Frequency capping to a number that is inline with the purchase cycle of what you are selling ( we typically set it to just 7 impressions / week so that they don’t feel stalked. One impression per day surely doesn’t normally make people feel threatened and you manage to stay top of the mind)

  3. Create custom audiences lists to “un-target” the relevant audiences ( ex: people who convert, move them out of the retargeted group )

  4. Fine tune your  targeting by  slew of features the retargeting technology allows (eg: audience exclusions, category exclusions, topic exclusions, age & gender exclusions, display kw & placement exclusions as well as relevant inclusions )

  5. Be subtle in your remarketing ad copy & always be testing when it comes to your messaging.

mota-moti , I agree with #1,2 of your summary but disagree on the critical #3. I’d say retargeting is an incredibly powerful, proven way to improve bottomline and should be leveraged, but just do it with proper checks and balances so that it adds value to the potential customers and not alienate them.

Completely 2nd what Yatin has pointed out.  Re-Targeting is a great tool for marketing, done the right way it will get more customers and not turn-off people.  Glad to read his analysis based on facts and not just personal notions. 

Thumbs up to your answer :-)

Hey Alok, its an Eye opener :) I think I did not realize this earlier, I viewed the hosting plans at today morning and now they are behind my life on every news site. 

dude... guess who my new stalker is...???


WHEREVER I GO - i see one message :))))))))))))))))

Ning Makes Your Social Website Look The Way You Want It To Look.

not complaining - much better than zivame!!

Very well explained in layman terms.


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