Retargeting 3.0–It tracks and observes a consumer, adds new data–and changes its sales pitch

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a front-page story on retargeting--the practice of stealthily tracking an individual user online in order to keep delivering sales pitches–including for health and financial products.  We gave the NYT lots of information, including how so-called “smart” ads technologies are now melded with retargeting–for so-called “Retargeting 3.0.“  [My CDD and USPIRG, btw, asked the FTC to investigate retargeting back in 2007 and to protect consumers].  Here’s some of what we sent to the Times.

From Criteo:“Retargeting allows you to find your previous website visitors across the Internet and display relevant banners to lead them back to your website to complete their transaction. Bringing ready-to-buy users back to your website after they have left should be a key part of your customer acquisition and conversion strategy. Criteo provides a breakthrough dynamic personalised retargeting solution…Criteo has revolutionised retargeting with the most sophisticated form of dynamic personalised retargeting. Over the past decade there has been a slow evolution of retargeting. This third generation of retargeting enables an advertiser to show each lost visitor a unique banner based on his/her very specific past interactions on the advertiser’s website. This new form of retargeting involves on-the-fly, real-time personalised banner creation and has a dramatic impact on campaign performance.”

Retargeting data now incorporates user information from outside demand side platform sources, and can the rights to retargeting you can be sold to the highest bidder via online ad exchanges, such as the one run by Google.

A recent MediaPost panel sums up how retargeting has evolved:
Re-Thinking Re-Targeting 
Re-targeting continues to be the tried and true workhorse of behavioral targeting. Tagging and retrieving someone who has already shown an interest in your business is about as simple a use of the BT model as it gets. But it is not so simple any more, and like everything else in this complex ad economy, re-targeting too is in for a upgrade. Dynamic ad creation driven by recommendation engines offers new opportunities to marketers to be even more effective. Demands for greater accountability, control over placement and clearer attribution press the ad networks and tech providers to provide new levels of transparency. And just like everyone else in the ad economy, re-targeting is working its way through questions about metrics and pricing, do marketers optimize and pay according to clicks, conversions, purchase? And what role does retargeting now play in this larger field of audience creation and the age of the DSP?

Retargeting illustrates how online marketers have deployed armies of digital private detectives to shadow us online.  They watch us closely, take notes, even learn about us, and then appear when we don’t expect it.  Consumers shouldn’t have to confront such digital surveillance.  Retargeting is “Exhibit A” in making the case to lawmakers that consumer privacy online should be protected.

Questions should also be raised about retargeting and consumer protection.  Should I get a better discount because the data collected about me indicates I spend more or live in an expensive neighborhood? Or that because they believe I am a certain ethnicity, I might spend more on certain products.  Retargeting is a non-transparent marketing technique that raises important consumer protection issues about the use of digital advertising.  Consumers require a fair deal online.

PS:  Here’s how Google explains its retargeting service–which in typical Silicon Valley meets George Orwell fashion, it calls “remarketing’ [for the Google Content Network]: “Remarketing is extremely effective because it targets a highly-relevant audience. With it, you can target users who:

  • have visited your website or viewed specific product categories on your site
  • didn’t convert or who abandoned their shopping cart
  • have converted (in order to up- or cross-sell to them)

If you’re already driving traffic to your site through other means, like contextual targeting or your search ads, remarketing is a great complement to those efforts to increase your return-on-investment (ROI).

and we believe in fair play.  Here’s what Microsoft says its “remessaging” service can do:   “After consumers visit your site, see one of your campaigns or click through on an ad, remessaging offers several ways to continue the conversation and ensure that your message is seen by the people to whom it matters most.  With site remessaging, you can re-engage a consumer to complete a purchase or further engage with your brand. Creative remessaging drives brand perception, awareness, and favorability, and enables advertisers to re-engage audiences who have seen or clicked on an existing campaign. Email remessaging complements email assets such as newsletters by placing tags and accessing the same email recipients to reinforce your message to a loyal audience.

and Yahoo!:  “Enhanced Retargeting, which combines standard site retargeting with dynamic ad generation. For example, users who visit an airline website to check offers for flights from SFO-JFK can be served a personalized offer for that specific flight when they visit a page within the Yahoo! Network. In a recent trial, a market-leading online travel company saw a 230% increase in total bookings and a 651% increase in click-through rate when comparing Enhanced Retargeting to their traditional retargeting campaign.  Recognizing the need for more focused audience segmentation and improved control, Yahoo! Search Marketing will offer advertisers Enhanced Targeting capabilities for Sponsored Search and Content Match programs. New features are designed to extend the advertiser’s control over where and when an ad is shown at both the campaign and ad group level, including what time of day and day of the week an advertiser would like campaigns to run (ad scheduling) and what age and gender they’d like to reach (demographic). Advertisers will be able to vary their bids for different segments in order to increase their ability to reach the desired audience.”

New Google Exec Rohit Khare has warned: “our social networks have traded away our privacy for mere “privacy theater”

Google just acquired Angstro and hired its co-founder Rohit Khare. Khare will help Google create its new social network.  Last December, Khare warned about the growing lack of privacy online [excerpt]: “When RockYou can stash 32 million passwords in the clear; when RapLeaf can index 600 million email accounts; and when Intelius can go public by buying 100 million profile pages; then our social networks have traded away our privacy for mere “privacy theater.”…none of the social networks that we’ve integrated with has an API for reading email addresses — but all of them have no problem asking you to “Invite your friends!”  After all, most social networks remain hypocritical enough to phish passwords to other social networks themselves as soon as they ask you to “Invite your friends” for their own viral growth!
Putting aside the hypocrisy of phishing passwords to scrape those friends’ email addresses in the first place, the subtler flaw is that social networks are more than happy to search their member database for those addresses to share a list of suggested friends. That’s how a Rapleaf could take a mailing list, pretend that those are all friends of theirs, and slowly accumulate a “reverse phonebook” that maps emails to social network profiles.”

Given Google’s own problems addressing consumer privacy, we will be watching closely to see if Khare’s concerns are reflected in what “Google Me” (or whatever their social network gets called) really addresses the problem.  That will need to include enabling users to control the data used for digital marketing and advertising, as far as we’re concerned.

“Digital Body Language” & Online Financial Marketing–Can Be Hazardous to Your Privacy and Fiscal Health

For the last several years we have watched with dismay the largely stealth online data collection and targeting apparatus assembled for online financial marketing.  Everything from loans, credit cards, mortgages and insurance is increasingly sold online–an entire system has developed that stealthily `-e-rates’ us, including whether we are considered good prospects for various financial products.  Such “scores” become associated with us–without our knowledge.  Online lead generation is one field that helps financial online marketers and others identify whether we are the kind of person who should be pursued for a loan, for example.  One company explains that the:  “shift to online from face-to-face sales has crippled our ability to see body language when interacting with prospects leaving us less able to connect with prospects to determine their level of interest. The solution? Savvy marketers step in to read prospects’ “digital body language” and use that knowledge to guide the buying process. What web pages did prospects click on? What emails excited their interest? What breadcrumbs are they leaving that show their paths through the buying process?  Digital body language can arm sales people with deep insights into the areas and levels of interest of every prospect. Furthermore, digital body language allows marketers to determine which leads should be passed to sales at all.”

As the FTC and Congress–and we assume state regulators–work to ensure consumer protection in the digital marketing era, online financial services must be at the top of their agenda.

Rules Required for Data-mining and Consumer Protection: A good offer for you– but not for your neighbor!

As Congress and the FTC focus on 21st Century consumer protection safeguards to address the digital marketplace, a guiding principle should be accountability and transparency.  Advanced computer systems for both business and government far out-strip the ability of a single consumer to understand–let alone control–how their information is collected and used.  We need to have fair marketing rules so some people–because of their income, where they live, what the spend and what on and especially–race/ethnicity–find themselves confronting the emerging discriminatory web.  Take what Stream Base Systems does for e-commerce–and ask yourself: wouldn’t you want to understand how such real time data tracking and mining is used to determine prices and offers made for you? [excerpt]:

As Internet transactions and data volumes continue to skyrocket, more and more traditional eCommerce and Web 2.0 businesses need to monitor and instantly react to all user activity in real-time in order to ensure a positive customer experience, high customer retention rates, and greater profit…

  • Website Monitoring: With clickstream and transaction rates soaring, a growing number of high-traffic e-businesses are seeking to monitor and react instantaneously to website-generated real-time events. StreamBase enables e-Businesses to analyze and react to clickstreams in real-time, which in turn enables the immediate delivery of personalized cross-sell or up-sell offers, or online product merchandising customized to the real-time activity of site visitors.  By analyzing current web activity data and correlating this with stored customer history data, personalized offers can be generated that match the Web customer’s current interests and activity.

Facebook Places & Data: “Every single action people take…becomes an object in Facebook’s database.” $1.7 billion in ad revenues in 2011

From eMarketer on The Advertising Opportunity in Facebook Places [excerpt]: Facebook’s value as a business comes from all the bits of information it gleans about its users from their daily activities. Every single action people take—whether it’s writing a status update, posting a photo, commenting on a friend’s post, liking a marketer’s message or playing a game—becomes an object in Facebook’s database. Location is a type of data that is very compelling because it provides additional context for the actions people take on Facebook…If ads can be pushed to people in the moment they are engaged with something, rather than waiting until they take action and start a search, the ads become very very powerful.  Location will give Facebook a new way to target and sell advertising… By offering ways for marketers to target Facebook users not only on the online service but also when they are on the go and using Facebook on their mobile phones, it opens up all-new avenues for interaction.

“Tipping Point for Geo-Marketing”—Facebook Places (and what the Like Button already tells marketers)

You have to follow your data [and your friends and networks]–that’s how the money is generated in online marketing.  This article via DM News explains that:“…Facebook continues to gather more information about what people do and where they are – critical data for marketers. “What I find interesting is where people check in says even more about what they like. Now we’re actually looking at their real-world behavior, instead of just a button they click on a website,” he said [Augie Ray, senior analyst at Forrester Research]. “I think this really will continue to help Facebook offer much better targeting and permit marketers to do a better job of understanding their consumers and targeting ads at those consumers.  The very scale that Facebook Places creates is a welcome event for marketers, said industry professionals.  “I would say this is a tipping point for geo-marketing,” said Lawrence Kimmel, CEO of the Direct Marketing Association…Maria Mandel, VP of marketing and media innovation at AT&T Advanced Ad Solutions, agreed that the service makes geo-marketing much more mainstream. “It certainly brings location-based social media to the mass market,” she said. “It validates the relevance of the location-based check-ins and may offer substantial new opportunities for advertisers.”  Leveraging location may prompt innovative promotional campaigns, such as scavenger hunt contests, Mandel noted. There is also the scope to build long-term loyalty programs by rewarding people for checking in at certain locations to build toward prizes, offers or discounts, she said.

source:  Marketers See Potential in Facebook Places.  Shahnaz Mahmud.  DMNews.  August 20, 2010.

PS:  One social media marketing company writes that:  “…Facebook already provides marketers with a comprehensive list of your interests and favorite things with the integration of the Like button. Retailers, like Amazon, have already begun to leverage this information to create purchase suggestions for you and your Facebook friends…Now, with Facebook Places…[M]arketers can (and should) use this invaluable information to direct promotions and advertisements to consumers…This information is highly valuable as social media once again allows businesses to gain access to the exact niche of consumers they are striving to reach.”

Facebook Places, Brands, Ads & Data

We have been raising concerns about privacy and location data collection and targeting–including with our colleagues at USPIRG.  Facebook’s new location feature is designed to generate more user data that can be used by Facebook and its affiliates to bolster ad and brand targeting.  I want to excerpt this post from one of Facebook’s developers–Vitrue–which illustrates how soon companies like McDonald’s will work with Facebook to harvest local data and our behaviors:

“…A user will open up their mobile Facebook app and be able to see shops, restaurants, parks, areas, etc. that they are near.  They can then check-in to that location.  If a location doesn’t exist, the user can simply create it.  A story about where that person checked-in will be published to their profile and subsequently their friends’ news feeds…Facebook’s massive user-base is a distinct advantage and is likely to generate location-based activity orders of magnitude greater than other companies already in the space. As the leading social network, Facebook is able to capitalize upon the users existing friends, and use their collected demographic and preference data to show users places that it thinks is relevant to them, instead of just places nearby.

How Will Brands Take Advantage of Facebook Places?

With all of these users checking in to locations, what does that mean for brands?  Well if your brand has brick-and-mortar locations, your brand can claim these digital “Places”, turning the locations into Facebook Place Pages.

Brands can choose to merge a Facebook Place Page with an existing Facebook Page, if one exists, and if prompted– the option may not be widely available yet as Facebook is rolling it out over a period of days…

At this time Facebook does not recommend merging your Places with your Page if you are a national or global marketer with more than one location, like a McDonald’s or GAP.  They recommend managing the Places separately and have stated that a solution that will help these types of brands is planned for the future…Currently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says they aren’t looking to monetize Facebook Places right now, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t in the future.   With Facebook collecting all of this location-based data, it seems like Facebook could allow brands to place highly targeted Facebook ads on the Places Facebook pages.  For example, if your brand’s products are sold in grocery stores, you could potentially place your ads on certain grocery stores’ pages to be viewed by people who’ve checked in.”

In another words, in the world of mobile and location ad targeting, our data will provide marketers with real-time sophisticated insights giving them a rich history of where we spend time and what we do [go to the bank, buy at the pharmacy, eat fast food, etc].  Such “360 degree” targeting, as the online marketers call it, require the appropriate privacy safeguards.

Google: Creating a “dynasty” in online data ad targeting

From the Connected Marketing Week in SF, via ClickZ:  Google is simultaneously attempting to fill the role of ad exchange, ad network, DSP (through its Invite Media acquisition), and media agency…Michael Rubenstein, president of AppNexus and the former head of Google’s ad exchange efforts, said Google has been admirably fair and transparent. But he said that could change.”Google is putting together the pieces to form a dynasty,” he said. “So far they’re behaving pretty well as far as keeping the ecosystem open to everybody, probably because they need to. But we’ll see what happens over time as they accumulate more market power.”

Facebook Places and Location Marketing: Plans to `Send in the Crowds’ from Advertisers

You have to read between the lines to understand what Facebook’s new location feature is really designed to do:  Open you and your friends to be more closely tracked by Facebook and its marketing partners, including major advertisers [Fans are worth money to Facebook and their marketing partners].   On Facebook’s blog post on the new location service [which is written in typical Silicon Valley PRspeak suggesting they are doing this only to bring pleasure into your life], the key telling phrase is: “You may want to share your check-in information with third-party applications that build interesting experiences around location, such as travel planning. Applications you use must receive your permission before getting this information. Your friends will be able to share your check-ins with the applications they use to help create new social experiences with location.”

That really means Facebook already has plans to use location data to expand its marketing business (inc. from thrid part apps), which is expected to help the social network bring in $1 billion this year.  Mobile and location applications require greater safeguards for privacy, as my CDD and USPIRG petitioned the FTC to do last year [as a result the FTC has opened up a “mobile lab” examining data collection and mobile marketing practices]. Companies such as Facebook. Google, Foursquare, and others are keenly aware of the huge ad revenue opportunity from location marketing.  One Google backed location social game start-up [SCVNVR] calls this potential the “social coefficient.”  As Mobile Marketer reported, the “Social Coefficient is a score determined by the number of social interactions at a specific location…The more friends at one place or the more users participating in the challenges over time, the higher the Social Coefficient score for that particular location.”  Facebook and others understand that advertisers are willing to pay more if they can encourage friends to market to other friends. 

McDonald’s is already in discussion with Facebook to use this new service.

Leaving Your Data in Las Vegas: Facebook, Online Gambling & Privacy [Annals of behavioral tracking and targeting in online casino gaming and the need for safeguards]

The Las Vegas Casino the Golden Nugget has created a social game [take a look] on Facebook where, says DM News, users can “build their own Vegas casinos, including table games such as Blackjack, Video Poker and Roulette. As they earn virtual money, consumers can create their own customized furniture layouts and decorations by purchasing store items, as well as slots, tables and clothing for a consumer’s avatar. Players can also visit their Facebook friends’ casinos and build their avatar.

It’s also about data collection:  “That is about data collection, as well as rewarding people who are playing the game,” [said a Nugget representative].  The game’s developer explained that it “will examine targeted behavioral gameplay data to help advertisers and to provide consumers with more compelling experiences.”

As Congress debates legislation that would okay online gambling, one of the key issues should be privacy.  What happens when a consumer is identified by a online casino or a Facebook that they gamble?  How does that get used in their online behavioral targeting profile, along with health and financial information?  Should we even permit the behavioral tracking of any user who engages with online casinos?  There are a host of privacy and consumer protection issues about leaving your data in Las Vegas–or with online marketers such as Facebook.