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Retargeting is a promotional tactic that involves a person visiting a page with a “retargeting pixel” that helps to identify them (or target them) later through email, social media, or websites with specialized advertising space that displays an ad regarding the same or similar content to the page they originally visited.

Potentially Unethical (Black Hat) Practices

The following shopping experiences are possible:

  1. The person comes to the webpage and decides to engage with the website’s call-to-action (e.g. purchase the product, sign up for more information).
  2. The person comes to the website and decides not to engage with the website’s call-to-action due to:
    1. Research on the product or service on that page and evaluating it as undesired.
    2. Accidental navigation to the page and automatic evaluation as undesired.
    3. Limited time to decide, so the evaluation is postponed.

Ideally, probably the only reason to retarget the person is regarding the last experience of postponing the evaluation of the product or service. Secondarily, if a person has purchased the product or service, they may be interested in another product or service (or the same one). However, many retargeting ads appear due to all the other shopping experiences described, including one-time only purchases.

These can create negative images of distrust or inadequacy of the company using retargeting:

  • Desperate for a person’s engagement due to spamming of the same or similar advertisement
  • No consent to communicate through the channels they are receiving advertising on looks like creepy stalking or surveillance of the person’s activities and user accounts (see Smashing Magazine’s Ethical Design: The Practical Getting-Started Guide on surveillance capitalism)

Not all advertisers are properly tracking the results of their shopping experience when they trigger the “retargeting pixel” either. For example, some companies may only want the “retargeting pixel” to trigger for a person who comes to the landing page from a specific digital ad. That may be deemed or defined as some sort of consent to advertise to that person. However, if a person comes to the landing page via a search result, email link, or just navigating to it from the same website, the “retargeting pixel” may improperly trigger.

The worst scenario is a black hat practice where advertisements cover a website in a manner that prevents proper navigation on that website (e.g. scrolling down a news article) that forces them to select the ad accidentally. Advertisers using this potentially unethical practice will count the accident as a click-through and possibly trigger that “retargeting pixel” to make additional profit on the additional digital ad impressions.

Retargeting tactics are not deemed by everyone as a negative marketing scheme. A portion of the population may consider retargeting a positive customer experience and come back in the future to see if the company has anything they are interested in.

What You Can Do

If you choose to use retargeting, specify to the advertising company exactly when the “retargeting pixel” should be triggered to collect a user’s information. Note that this can’t be done retroactively, especially if no such pixel has been implemented, yet. Contact Web Services regarding its implementation through Google Tag Manager.

Inform the advertising company that you want to limit the number of times a person receives the retargeting ad. Tarleton has typically limited the retargeting to three (3) ads at the most.

Provide consent forms to allow your audience the ability to choose to receive more communication from you or opt-out of advertising (see the CAN-SPAM Act).

Many advertisers can claim large impression numbers or click-throughs on your digital ads. When you collaborate with Web Services to track your advertisements, we can help you determine if your content is not what people are expecting when they select your ad. This will help us improve your messaging both on the ad and on the landing page the ad points to, to better inform your audience of what they should expect including a potentially better retargeting ad experience.