Creepy Vol. 2 #1Ever feel like you’re being watched online? Never mind the NSA and political fall-outs due to revealed data-storing plans and spying – I’m talking about the kind of “creepy marketing” that marketers are accused of by consumers.

Retargeting Ads

Let’s say you’ve been thinking about buying a Fitbit. You want a smart fitness tool that will integrate with different apps on your smart phone and keep track of every move you make – right down to your sleeping patterns. So a Fitbit seems like a pretty good option. You’ve looked at competitor products like the Nike FuelBand and Jawbone, but in the end, Fitbit’s branding and product seems to resonate more with you.

Perhaps you’re also not ready to buy yet – you need a while to really think about it since the purchase is somewhat of a big one. Leaving the website, you suddenly see Fitbit banner ads on every other page you hit. The ads are smarter now, and they’re retargeting you based on your searches. Multiply this instance by 100x and you’re bombarded with ads related to your searches and websites you’ve visited.

As marketers, you’ve all experienced this before and you’ve probably run a retargeting ad campaign for your brand. Google certainly makes it easy to do – and the technology is only expected to get better. With improved retargeting technologies, brands and digital advertising platforms can identify when a user has converted so it doesn’t harass the user with the same ads to buy a product they might have already converted on ( is an example).

But the general Internet public finds it “creepy” – less than half of online users are actually okay with it. According to Nielsen, only 42% of consumers trust online banner ads.



Despite the low percentage compared to personal recommendations and branded websites, it is technically an increase from the past 5 years. But this isn’t the only example of consumers feeling a little unsure of banner ads and digital marketing.

Can I Collect Data On You?

NPR’s Emma Anderson covered a story all about how certain consumers are feeling creeped out – but about a different type of digital tracking and data collection. The story can be found here: Your Digital Trail: Private Company Access. Anderson dives into a discussion with Jules Polonetsky, Executive Director of the Future of Privacy Forum, about data collection on behalf of private companies:

“I think companies haven’t figured out how to talk to people about data or privacy,” says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum. “And we think that’s a big part of why the industry has such a bad rap. They’re worried that [consumers’] reaction will be, ‘That’s creepy. I don’t like it.’ ”

But Polonetsky says most companies that track users have an innocent explanation: They are helping other companies advertise their products directly to you, or personalizing their service to buy your loyalty. Have you ever wondered: Weird, I keep getting ads for running shoes; how do they know I jog?

Polonetsky then gives a classic example of a mobile application user experience:

“The other day I downloaded a prayer book app,” says Polonetsky. “The first thing it did when I opened it up, it asked me for location, and I’m like what?”

He says he couldn’t figure out why a prayer book app would ever need to know his GPS coordinates. But then the app sent him information on the closest synagogues, including their scheduled prayers.

“So it was actually trying to help me,” he says.

Polonetsky says that most of the companies that track users don’t know their personal identities. But he acknowledges that the companies can identify their computers. Every time you browse the Internet, companies can put invisible markers on your computer called cookies.

Anderson and Polonetsky then discuss this idea of “creepy marketing” and “creepy data collection”.

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The general consensus? Marketers and whatever technology they have need to be transparent.

Can You See Through Me, Yet?

In June 2013, Adobe/Edelman Berland conducted a survey on consumer attitudes towards online practices:


With consumer perception of data collection being so low, we all have to wonder if it’s because marketers (and organizations) aren’t being transparent enough in their intentions when they collect user data.

The biggest problem, however, is that many platforms do not allow for marketers to explain why they would ever need to access a user’s data  – and you can pretty much bet money that no one ever actually reads the “Terms of Service” form.

Anytime you integrate an app with Facebook, a popup will appear asking you if it’s okay for the third-party to see who your friends are, and potentially post on behalf of you. But there’s never a moment of enlightenment or clarification on why the third-party would want to access to that – and more importantly, if they store that information somewhere once they are able to pull data from a social profile like Facebook.

The same goes for applications. If you’ve downloaded an app and upon opening the mobile app, it asked if it could access your geographic location (much like Polonetsky’s example mentioned above), there usually isn’t an explanation on why it would need that information. Well – in this case, it’s the actual operating system of the mobile device. It’s only programmed to display that one specific box – no way to encode a reason why it would want that access. On the contrary, it it possible to code the application in a way that explains its features – but this opens up a whole ‘nother side of developing the mobile app.

So what gives? How do we become more transparent?

It has to start with the platforms that marketers use – Facebook, iOS, Android, and any other platform or API that would allow for marketing technologies to access user data. Applications – whether it’s on mobile or desktop – must have a moment of clarification for the users, so they know what they’re getting into and you know that they’re truly okay with your application accessing their data. Who knows? Maybe even conversion rates will rise!

Asia Matos was the Director of Marketing at ARKE Systems where she oversaw all of the marketing channels and operations for the organization. In her role, Asia managed lead generation-focused content strategy, traffic acquisition, campaign execution, and event planning. She worked daily with content management systems like Sitecore and Wordpress, the analytics platforms of Google Analytics and the Sitecore Experience Platform, and contributed her extensive experience with email service providers like Silverpop and ClickDimensions. Asia was the editor and writer of ARKE’s blog Asia is now the #FlipMyFunnel Demand Generation Manager for Terminus.