Clicks ’n Tricks: Google gets personal with ad-blocking

Mon, 17/09/2018 - 10:00

Life is becoming complicated for advertisers who want to target customers as precisely as possible.

Previous columns have touched on the growth of ad-blocking and its impact on the marketing industry. While consumers — particularly in South Africa — remain relatively unaware of how to enable technology to prevent ads being shown, GDPR and the imminent arrival of POPI are making people more cognizant of their rights to privacy. Couple this to the latest browser updates from Mozilla (the people behind Firefox) and Google, which make it far easier to avoid ads, and we’re likely to see a significant growth in the number of people who switch on ad-blocking.

Hit the mute button
Google’s recent decision to let its customers ‘mute’ remarketing, or ‘reminder ads’ as it refers to them, is particularly frustrating for marketers because these ads work exceptionally well. We’ve all experienced remarketing; it’s when those pesky adverts follow you around the internet, reminding you of products that you were looking at a few days earlier.

For consumers, it’s a good, albeit ever so slightly creepy, reminder that you might still want those feather-trimmed gold Converse sneakers you were checking out last week. For businesses, particularly those in the ecommerce space, it’s an extremely cost-effective way of boosting conversion rates and increasing their sales of dodgy trainers.

It’s easy to understand why Google has made this shift. Its core purpose is to give people great browsing experiences and it clearly feels brands have been overusing remarketing and annoying their customers. After all, if you only looked at the tekkies to see how atrocious some people’s fashion sense is, it will become pretty grating if they’re shoved in your face every time you go online.

One person who certainly won’t be complaining about the demise of remarketing is Gavin Barwell, the UK politician who, a few years ago, embarrassed himself by accusing his Labour party opponents of placing an inappropriate ad for an ‘Arab girl’ dating service in an email. After investigation, it transpired he’d only been shown the ad because he’d previously visited a website offering introductions to Middle Eastern beauties.

5bn mut(ant) ads
For brands, the upside of this latest policy change is that Google won’t automatically block your adverts. And it remains to be seen just how many people will exercise their rights by making the effort to go into their user settings and switch on the remarketing ‘mute’ feature. Indeed, stats from Google show that people used the previous mute option (which allowed them to block ads they found distasteful but didn’t apply to remarketing) just 5bn times in 2017, which, while a large number, represents a tiny fraction of the total ads the search giant served last year.

But it’s clear that change is on the cards and, given the probability that the halcyon days of remarketing-based advertising are behind us, savvy marketers should be looking for other ways to engage their customers.

While brands continue to invest in digital advertising, money’s pouring into martech — Gartner indicates that larger companies allocated 22% of their budget to it in 2017 — and it’s a trend that shows no signs of abating. Hopefully, many will double down on personalisation. Good marketers should know their customers. If they’ve made the effort to build value during the relationship, people will be more than happy to provide email addresses or phone numbers. And that opens up a whole new range of tech-driven marketing opportunities.

Standing tall among the contending tactics are dynamic content serving and marketing automation. The former tracks a person’s behaviour when they visit a website, recording the pages they view and the actions they take. It uses this data to cluster them into groups and then serves them content that elicited desired actions (like purchases or downloads) from others in the group who displayed similar browsing behaviour.

Silverback gorilla
The silverback gorilla in the marketing automation space is Acoustic (previously IBM Watson), which uses artificial intelligence to hone outbound email and SMS-based messaging campaigns to ensure they resonate with our needs right here, right now.

While news of remarketing’s demise will doubtless come as a relief to Barwell (who in true political style will probably claim it as a direct result of his intervention), I’m sure he’ll be checking his emails somewhat nervously next time he visits his favourite website.

*This article originally appeared on

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