Fall is here, and attention spans are disappearing faster than the leaves as they fold into ten second play increments. As the season pushes forward, game outcomes are more and more commonly disputed – often as the result of a “bad call.” Referees shoulder a great deal of responsibility, interpreting every move on the field and every rule to ensure the game runs smoothly. In this way, the referee closely resembles the tracking cookie. Storing the important data like minutes of game play (or minutes on site) they follow your position up and down the field (or through your web browser). Successful referees on the field and on the web interpret data and behavior to bring audiences an experience with maximum entertainment and minimal annoyance. What else can refs teach us about cookies in advertising?
1. They’re impartial
Despite the occasional slip up, a good referee is unbiased. The jersey on a player’s back and the name scrawled across it are merely secondary to the action on the field. The same is true of browsing behavior. Cookies don’t need to know a name any more than the football needs to know what mascot dances upon the sideline. While privacy is a serious matter, retargeting cookies on main advertising platforms are disallowed from collecting personally identifiable information (PII). The cookie, much like the referee, holds the power to manipulate a lot of information – but thanks to protocols, Peter Parker, and a fan base ready to revolt at the slightest hint of falsity, we know that power comes checked with great responsibility.
2. They pay attention to every move
Have you ever browsed a website, only to find it shadowing you all over the web later on? How does your internet browser know you still haven’t ordered tickets to Sunday’s game? And why is that Fantasy Football website you’d never heard of until last week suddenly everywhere? As comedic great Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Look to the cookie!” The cookie isn’t out to tackle, stalk, or to poke holes in privacy. Nay, the cookie is there to measure, to follow the position on the field – or in the purchase funnel. Well placed retargeting campaigns shouldn’t feel like a crazed fan trying to get past security, but rather should exist as a referee – assisting in the background.
3. If it’s controversial, they’ll replay
Whether it’s a forgotten item in a digital shopping cart, a long visit duration on a website, or an incomplete form fill, cookies will take notice. They watch as browsers penetrate the consumer red zone and cross over the final yard line, and take serious note when it appears the ball may have been dropped. Replaying the experience with a secondary digital ad, often inclusive of a discounting nudge, is a great way to ensure pass completion. Recent studies even suggest this may be a key offensive strategy for upcoming holiday ads, as an average of 98% of shopping website traffic doesn’t convert on the first visit.
4. When they get it wrong, you hate them
Ad refs exist to enhance your experience with relevant and timely information. Poorly executed ads are plentiful, whether they misidentified your team (by way subpar targeting) or made a lackluster judgment (by insisting upon a purchase). A bad call will incite annoyance so prevailing audiences will turn on refs, players, and fellow spectators alike in a terrifying and uncalled for Steve-Bartman-like rage. A bad call will turn consumers against brands, products, and cookies altogether. Avoid common mistakes such as excessive frequency, un-tailored content, and unmonitored targeting (such as including users who have already made a purchase, or filed a complaint form).
5. When they get it right, you don’t even notice them
A successful strategy will include well-defined parameters which make the content a win for both viewer and advertiser. These campaigns analyze behaviors, tailor content, and segment audiences. When retargeting campaigns are successful and follow the rules, much like a referee, you will not notice their existence. They will fade into the sidelines as you focus on the beautiful game before you.
While terminology and collection methods will evolve over time (with up-and-coming systems like ID based tracking in Facebook’s Atlas platform), basic principles of anonymous data collection are here to stay. Learning how to use tracking responsibly could be key to reaching sales and lead goals, but should also be beneficial and unobtrusive to browsers. It is time to tackle the digital landscape, without blitzing the browsers.
Could your digital advertising strategy benefit from a referee? Get in touch to learn more.