retargeting_ruined_christmasWhen you visit a website and start shopping for a product, then see the same or similar products through an advertisement on Facebook or Google a couple of days later - it isn't a coincidence. Savvy online companies everywhere are making use of the effective strategy of "retargeting" - a technique designed to tailor ads specifically to the behavior a certain user displays.

Though retargeting has many benefits for consumer and company alike, it can become a problem during the festive season, if you want to keep your searched-for items a secret from other people using your computer. Fortunately, managing the ways in which you are served advertisements is possible if you know how to adjust your online activities.

How Retargeting Works

How retargeting works

Before we can begin the discussion on how to manage retargeting efforts on consumer computers, it's worth knowing how the process works to begin with. Many consumer-focused websites make use of "cookies" to track the interactions that users have with their site. In other words, the first time an individual searches for or views a product, the website will deposit a cookie onto your browser which can be evaluated or changed later.

Once cookies have been doled out among potential customers, the website buys ad space throughout the Internet that allows them to serve ads to their consumers based on what the cookie in their browser collected about their history.

For businesses, retargeting methods are effective in a variety of different ways - both for the profit and nonprofit Worlds. Not only is this system a natural source of appeal to B2C industries, but in some cases, it can also work in B2B scenarios too.

Retargeting Is A Powerful Advertising Tool

Because retargeting is such a powerful advertising tool, it's unlikely that we're going to see a shortage of it any time soon. What's more, as we move further into the future, the retargeting efforts that businesses use are becoming increasingly smart, learning more about what we do online, what we place in shopping carts, and what we search for overall.

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To some degree, retargeting can be helpful for consumers, as it allows them to access the best price for an item that they want without having to track down a website that they may have clicked away from days ago. In the same vein, it also gives them the opportunity to benefit from deals and sales that a certain brand is promoting, from the moment they become available.

Unfortunately, now that Christmas and the holiday season is upon us, most consumers want to search for gift ideas and options without having to worry about pictures and advertisements popping up on the screen at a later time. After all, for those customers who share a computer with their loved ones, it's very easy for someone to be tipped off about a possible Christmas gift when they're constantly bombarded with sudden advertisements for the latest games console.

How to Protect Your Gift Surprises

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Fortunately, keeping your gift ideas a surprise doesn't have to mean cursing the name of retargeting. In fact, most of the time, shopping for Christmas ideas in secret is a lot simpler than you might think. Many browsers allow you to select an option within the browser settings that "tell sites I do not want to be tracked", or allow you to switch to private browsing.

Recommended by Lifehacker for the purpose of festive shopping, switching to private browsing can stop marketing widgets and cookies from picking up information about your Christmas gift searching. It's as simple as going to the setting tab in your Internet browser, and the mode will instantly obliterate any cookies that it picks up on shopping websites - making it impossible for advertisers to use targeted advertising on you for the time being.

However, if you visit a number of websites that require Flashplayer to run, you may encounter a few extra problems, and flash cookies are not deleted as easily when you clear out your browsing history. If you want to get those off your system, you may need to head the SharedObjects part of the flash player directory and delete cookies manually.

The Moral of The Story

The truth is that retargeting efforts aren't another way for companies and big brands to sap consumer privacy. Rather, they are an opportunity for brands to offer more personalized and tailored advertising to customers who might otherwise be plagued by a stream of irrelevant ads.

Though retargeting can cause something of a potential problem during the festive months, it is possible to manage this issue by deleting your cookies before someone else uses your computer, or making your browsing history private. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Topics: retargeting, Happy Holidays, retargeting platforms, Private Browsing

Tim Nichols

Written by Tim Nichols

Tim Nichols is a founding partner at ExactDrive, a digital media buying agency with white label, reseller and managed service options available. ExactDrive plans, manages, and optimizes online advertising campaigns with the objective of delivering measurable value and empowering clients to find precisely targeted audiences. ExactDrive has offices in Minneapolis, MN and Milwaukee, WI.

Tim Nichols is also a contributing author on Forbes.com.