Picture: 123RF/rawpixel
Picture: 123RF/rawpixel

Ever searched for a product on Google only for that product to repeatedly show up in ads, even after you’ve bought it? You’re not the only one – a UK study from the Kantar research group confirmed that 70% of respondents bump into the same ads over and over again, while 54% said they object to being targeted based on past activity.

Putting the machine on auto

It points to a certain laziness that has crept into online advertising, one that is simply content to leave all the work to the Facebook and Google advertising machines. As long as the budget and audience profile are set, marketers are happy to feed them some money and see it go its merry way.

It’s the equivalent of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice for the digital age, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this overreliance on Facebook and Google is now coming back to haunt the industry. The Kantar study notes that 55% of online users are completely apathetic towards advertising content. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer survey placed advertising dead last when it comes to consumer trust, behind sectors such as telecoms and banking.

It’s not to say the Google and Facebook machines don’t work. Clearly, they have to deliver some value to encourage marketers to put more coins in. But it’s also good to remember that their machine’s only mandate is to gobble a marketer’s budget up as quickly as it can in the hope that you'll feed it some more.

What agencies haven’t been paying attention to is the need to sweat the machine. It’s easy to set up a campaign, but to get true marketing value from it, well, that’s where the problem comes in. The growth of digital spend and a lack of investment in skills development have led to the point where there simply aren’t enough talented digital marketers, who know how to do this, to go around.

Getting stuck in is key

Having said that, what one lacks in talent can be compensated for by actually putting in the effort. It means getting your hands dirty by figuring out what levers to pull, and then investing time and energy in pulling the right ones at the right moment. This should include manual bid adjustments to bring down the cost of acquisition; constant changes to ad copy to catch people at the right time in their buying cycle; and fine-tuning keywords to get targeting right.

The need to get stuck into these digital campaigns is one of the reasons why I’m not too concerned about Google’s recent announcement regarding cookies. The company is giving users the ability to auto-delete personal data after a three- or 18-month period.

Marketers need to rethink their digital marketing methodologies.

For marketers the implication is that without cookies to track, they don’t know what products users have searched for, thus claiming Google is making precision targeting a lot more difficult. The truth is, precision targeting is part of the overall problem, and so far from precise it’s laughable.

Ironically, Google’s decision might actually solve part of the overexposure problem that consumers are so upset about. By reducing the amount of time cookies are stored, Google is making it easier to find those users who have only recently searched for a product and are still looking to buy, emptying the drawer of those who are not relevant anymore. 

In a self-governing industry with no certification standard, advertising agencies – and the brands that employ them – should rather be concerned with online advertising’s low standing. With the money that’s being ploughed into digital ending up alienating the very people it’s supposed to be influencing, agencies need to seriously rethink their digital marketing methodologies and up the training provided. Those first to do so will see extraordinary results. 

  • Charlie Stewart is the CEO of multi-award winning independent marketing agency, Rogerwilco.