Is Chasing Me All Over the Internet!

Last month I went looking for a pair of 8-1/2 EEEE shoes on the I spent a long time with Zappos (a subsidiary of and found the shoes I wanted. For reasons to be explained later, I went direct to the website of the manufacturer—New Balance—and bought my shoes there.

Last month I went looking for a pair of 8-1/2 EEEE shoes on the I spent a long time with Zappos (a subsidiary of and found the shoes I wanted.

For reasons to be explained later, I went direct to the website of the manufacturer—New Balance—and bought my shoes there.

For days afterwards, ads for Zappos started turning up as I surfed various websites—,, and—to name four.

In the media player at right you can see the ads with wee photographs of shoes that I had looked at.

This is a truly stupid advertising technique created by the newest breed of smug little 20-somethings—dazzled by their technical wizardry and unable to get inside the heads of those with whom they are communicating.

These goons were first loosed on the Internet in the late 1990s.

“The Internet is a new medium and a new paradigm,” they told us marketing geezers. “The old rules of marketing don’t apply. It’s a world of new rules and we make them.”

Because of this philosophy, billions of dollars were lost in the great dot-com bust of 2000.

Why Zappos’ Marketing People Should Be Zapped
In these ads under the Zappos logo (in mousetype) was the question: “Why am I seeing this ad?” Click on it, and up comes this smartypants headline and copy:

Some People Prefer Rainbows, And Others Prefer Unicorns. If you prefer not to see personalized ads, we totally get it.

At, we know different people like different things, so we want our ads to reflect that. That’s why we love these ads! They display products that are relevant to you versus a typical ad that showcases a limited product offering.

Translation: “This is not about you-the prospect or customer. It’s all about us! Oh, Wow! Are we ever clever!”

Do the Zappos kids really believe that hitting me in the eye with a parade of teeny shoes on every website I surf is going to sell me anything?

Frankly, it creeps me out.

In the disclaimer copy at the bottom is this line:

Importantly, no personal information of any kind was shared with any of the sites we advertise on. Everything is anonymous.

In early January of this year, the Zappos website was hacked. My personal information—along with more than 24 million fellow Zappos customers—is being shared with cyber criminals all over the Internet.

As this new personal information is added to my digital dossier on these illicit databases and rocketed around the world, it’s only a matter of time before Peggy and I are ripped off because of the Zappos hack.

Which is why I went to New Balance and ordered directly from the manufacturer. Nobody’s going to spend time hacking into the customer files of a relatively small cobbler.

Zappos is a great place to shop—to see what’s available (in weird sizes and made in the USA) from myriad manufacturers.

But nice folks do not run Zappos. Their IT people are utterly incompetent and they are stalkers.

Author: Denny Hatch

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

32 thoughts on “ Is Chasing Me All Over the Internet!”

  1. I happen to agree with Denny. When I log into Amazon, I’m not at all bothered by the recommendations based on what I’ve purchased or looked at before. But when I check out, I expect to be gone. As an adjunct to my main site, I have a customized site on CafePress. It’s an incredibly poorly implemented site, since it shows my logo on every product, and I’m a distributor whose business it is to put other companies’ logos on things. Recently, I did just that on the site and placed an order. Ever since then, I keep seeing the image of the same product with my logo popping up on random sites. What does it have to do with Nothing. Want to guess where it would take me if I clicked on it? The main generic cafepress site. What a great way to develop a customer relationship! I believe in targeted marketing, but this one backfires.

  2. I am 30-something as well and I disagree with 30-something: Not because there is a cool new tool provided by Google that potentially can make you money re-targetting website visitors you should use it to chase your customers till the end of time.
    I am sure a website of the size of Zappos has being testing with the length of exposure a website visitor is being re-targetted (hopefully data will tell them that if your ad shows up in every website I visit for 2 months I will be extremely annoyed and creep-out will be less than 10 exposures/2 weeks?), but in the meantime the negative connotations are powerful.
    For example: not because I have information about a website visitor provided by cookies and customer database I will let them know: it will freak them out.
    It is just a very powerful tool that in the wrong hands can do more harm than good…

    Oh! I will cherish those days when the darn bottle of serum was chasing me in every single page I visited…
    Give me a break Perricone MD!

  3. Denny,

    There are monsters under the bed… and in the closet and behind the curtains. There are much, much worse things to worry about during your technological travels than some personalized ads (that at least tell you what they’re doing and give you a chance to stop it).

    I seem to recall you saying that you prefer Apple products. Have you followed the news about how every iPhone tracks its travels and then sends the data back to Apple’s giant spaceship offices in Cupertino? Do you know what and how much personal information is being tracked by every app you install on that iPhone? (At least Microsoft’s Marketplace for Windows Phone tells you that information up front — right on the ordering page for each app.)

    Do you know just how much that iPhone is doing on its own while you think it is inactive? A quick, real example: My daughter visited Europe with her iPhone. She had a Euro calling plan, but nothing for data. Much to our surprise — and with all of her usual applications turned off — her phone independently ran up $500 worth of "data roaming" charges in just a few days!

    Apple isn’t the only bad actor here. Android phones do many of the same things. If you’ve been following the news at all, you’d know that Google face a fair amount of heat for the vast quantities of personal information that they’re compiling from across all of their services (Google search, Gmail, YouTube, Android, Gmail+ and more).

    Then… there’s Facebook. Of course, you know that Facebook watches every single thing you do or say. Not only that, but they correlate it with what your friends do or say. One would not be surprised to find that if 50% of your friends watch porn, Facebook will model you as likely watcher, too. It is also known that Facebook tracks your non-Facebook activities while your account is still logged in, but did you know that they track your activities while you’re NOT logged into Facebook? How? Because Facebook puts cookies on your computer that react to the "Like" button on any web page, so even if you’re logged off, Facebook’s cookies at least keep a tally of any site that has the "Like" button.

    And one more thing… This may have changed, but at least at one point, Facebook’s usage terms gave them rights to any text or image you posted to their site. Their ads could feature that private photo you shared with you-know-who about the you-know-what you-know-where.

  4. From today’s tech headlines:

    Apple Holds the Master Decryption Key to iCloud
    From Ars Technica —

    "At the heart of the issue is the fact that Apple can, at any time, review the data synced with iCloud…

    … Apple can potentially decrypt and access all data stored on iCloud servers. This includes contacts, notes, unencrypted e-mails, application preferences, Safari bookmarks, calendars, and reminders.

    … they can view any and all content…

    In particular, [forensic data analysis expert Jonathan] Zdziarski cited particular clauses of iCloud Terms and Conditions that state that Apple can ‘pre-screen, move, refuse, modify and/or remove Content at any time’ if the content is deemed ‘objectionable’ or otherwise in violation of the terms of service."

    So, Denny, are a few personalized ads worse than the above?

  5. Would it be really wrong of me to say that while I find these ads highly invasive, I find it highly offensive that they don’t really do a good job in close the sale. Ostensibly you’re seeing re-targeted ads because you’ve gone to a site and fallen out of a shopping cart. Or maybe the seller thinks that if they feed you the right offer you will come back and buy again. The reality is most of these re-targeted ads aren’t good because they dont follow the basic tenants of DM .. and if they did, they’d be a whole lot more effective. Bottom line, if you’re going through the trouble to chase me down, why not treat me to a discount? Or a reward to return to the site. Creepy is whole lot less creepy when it serves myself interest …

  6. Oh Denny, this is old-fashioned "re-targeting" or, as Google calls it "re-marketing." You visit a website and a cookie for an ad network is dropped. As you surf the web, you’ll see ads for the visited website IF you visit websites that are part of the ad network that dropped the cookie.

    Even if you want to see something truly creepy, subscribe to Zappo’s emails then do some searches on Zappos while logged in. Your emails will immediately get super-personalized to what you searched.

  7. The problem, oh aged sage, is that this type of marketing does, in general, work. They may be 20-something upstarts, but neither they nor the people they answer to are going to continue with personalized re-targeting unless it makes them money, and it is. Sure, some people like yourself are creeped out. And it would be great if they could track you buying even better to know that you already bought the shoes from another site so they should stop showing them to you. (Meaning an even creepier level of tracking cross-company, but you would never know about it.) But overall, these campaigns make money because if you were interested enough to look at a product once, you probably only need a few nudges to go back and buy it. At the very least, the company’s presence and branding is reinforced. You may be creeped out, but you certainly remember who they are….

  8. Denny —
    My recommendation is to use Firefox with the Adblock plug-in. You won’t see Zappos (or any other ads) anymore.

    I don’t.

    It makes my online experience so much more pleasant.

  9. The same thing happened to me when I visited a Puritan Pride (vitamins) website. Definitely, gave me a bad impression of the company. Funny thing is, I used to buy from them, but because of the "stalking", I do not.

  10. Look, O 30-something web marketer, it’s true that you can sometimes annoy enough people into buying your product that it seems worth the effort.

    But advertising that’s incessant, intrusive, and annoying to the point of obnoxiousness also does serious harm to the industry, prompts government regulation, and ultimately harms not only the marketer behind the annoyance and its agency, but also everyone in the business. (Think about Do Not Call and other opt-out lists, for example, O wet-behind-the-ears hotshot.)

    If you’re one of those "personalized re-targeting" gurus, I recommend that you cut it out and stop fouling the nest that all of us occupy.

  11. I agree with A 30-something web marketer below. With analytics programs these marketers can prove that this type of advertising works. It creeps me out, too, but I can at least appreciate the ingenuity surrounding it. This happened to me with shoes, as well… a LivingSocial deal came into my inbox (or maybe it was a Groupon deal) and I was suspicious about their "regular price" vs. their discounted price, so I searched online for the exact same pair. I could find it for the same price that the deal was being offered for, plus free shipping, elsewhere on the web. Then, for the rest of the day, those shoes (sometimes the same exact pair and size, other times just the generic style in men’s OR women’s) would appear on websites that I visited, as ads.

    Anyway, this is the future. We are out of the typewriter age, and in the mobile age. Granted, I am in my mid-30s, but for the most part, I see technology as a blessing, a time-saver, and even kinda cool. (this coming from a girl who barely just got a smart phone 9 months ago). But I use technology to help me market my products; to help me boost my SEO rankings; to help me communicate with my customers, no matter where I am. And that is key…. my customers know that I will get back to them immediately. And if they post on my Facebook business page, they will get a reply QUICKLY, even if I am in a supermarket checkout line. And my sales continue to grow. I am happy, they are impressed. IT WORKS! Technology just rocks. 🙂

  12. Dear 30-something Web marketer, what I take away from Denny’s column is that the Web and this kind of marketing is warping relationships – potentially to the detriment of companies that get a temporary win. "But overall, these campaigns make money" – IN THE SHORT TERM. There are 2 ways to increase revenue – get new customers to buy and do more business with existing customers. I don’t need to tell you which is cheaper or more profitable…although maybe I do. I am having a similar experience with Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking product – a product I bought months ago. It has soured me on the brand, I have a strongly negative opinion of the company, and they’re not going to get another penny out of me – EVER. Their repetitious shilling of a product I have already bought IS PART OF MY CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP with them. I don’t give a flying [pancake] how difficult it is to know customer X already bought. They’ve basically [messed up] the bed with me right after the first [purchase]. Target marketing is great. I think what Denny is trying to show is that that’s not the end of the story. There is a relationship and you risk irreparably damaging what should be THE BEST relationship you have – those with existing customers – and THE MOST PROFITABLE relationship you have if what you are doing ends up damaging your reputation with them.

  13. Just an FYI to all…These ads that are "following you" are a mechanism called "behavioral targeting" that is a service provided by Google and other such ad networks. This is an add-on service for these networks (Google Adwords, Adsense, etc.) and the advertisers probably wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t working.

    Don’t get mad at Zappos because they are trying to leverage the innovative tools provided by Google and others to make more money.

    Brody Dorland – Another 30-something web marketer

  14. Retargeting has to be tested to determine if the results are worth the annoyance factor for you company. I find it personally disturbing as well but if I owned a website that used it and it made more sales and profits than not using it, well then I’m using it. I think we, as individual surfers, should have the option of turning off retargeting however whenever we want so we do not see ads repeatably for something we no longer have an interest in. And yes, I agree with you the Zappos copy on why you’re seeing these ads is horrible and stupid.

  15. Honestly, this is just an op-ed piece. The hacking component is understandably a bad situation, but to diminish an effective marketing technology just because you don’t like it is very disappointing. It lacks imagination. I just went to a seminar last week that was showing positive sales impact driven by retargeting and remarketing efforts. I actually bought a pair of shoes from Nordstrom for my wife because they kept appearing after my visit, and I liked them more each time I saw them. If you don’t like the concept, just disable your ads and move on.

  16. Personally, I find "behavioral retargeting" ads to be creepy too. More than that, I find them to be like Google’s search rankings based on behavior — annoying because they may be keeping me from seeing what I really want to see in that space. But the fact is that they convert at a rate over twice as high as regular banner ads, and as long as that’s true, they’re here to stay.

  17. Sounds to me like you need to get over yourself and quit being so sensitive about new marketing techniques. I think it’s actually a genius idea and personalized retargeted marketing works. If it didn’t, companies wouldn’t use it. It all comes down to the bottom line, and the fact is that for every one stick in the mud like you that it drives away, it probably nails 10 orders. I’m willing to bet 10 years ago you would have cried foul play about being marketed to online period. You probably thought that there is no way people would buy shoes online. I mean, they’re shoes. Certainly you have to go to the local shoe store and try them on, right? This will never work. How dare these young free thinking outside the box marketers try to do something new and stupid like sell shoes online. Fast forward 10 years and now you have no qualms about buying special ordered shoes from your computer. Don’t bash techniques because you don’t understand them or are unwilling to think outside the box. Keep marketing in your local newspaper and mailing flyers. Oh, and clean your cookies.

  18. We all find it "disturbing" followed by a long list of reasons why we are doing this "remarketing" stuff anyway. Believe it or not, the right to privacy used to be a freedom in this country. Oh, but that’s right, the new elite says "privacy is dead, get over it."

  19. Of all the things to complain about in the world this is what you guys pick? If you go to a website that features ads then you’ll concede that you are going to be exposed to ads, correct? If that’s the case, then what freaking difference does it make if the ad is from a website you just visited (presumably indicating an interest) or an ad for something you are not interested in at all?

    And to all of you complaining about "damaging the relationships" with your potential customers, give me a break. Anyone worth his salt in marketing knows that you can’t please everyone all the time and you shouldn’t try to…if I’m pulling in an ROI of 10 to 1 or whatever it may be then I’ll run the risk of offending a small percentage of sissies any day.

  20. Denny is absolutely right….I have been re-marketed enough! I went to a website to see how I could possibly use their liquidation service for getting rid of $29K in excess inventory and they have been following me for two weeks…guess what…not using their service, period!

    What these websites risk is gaining the annoyance of customers like me. Now a leading computer manufacturer has decided to re-target me because I looked at their line of envious laptops….geez

  21. Regardless of how old the marketers are who implement a technique, there’s importance in looking at the short and long-term effects of said technique. I dislike behavioral targeting intensely in this context. I don’t want to be forever shadowed by images of items that I’ve bought or looked at. However, in the context of a direct relationship with a vendor (say I go back to Zappos to view other items), the targeting wouldn’t bother me at all. I "get" cookies. Denny’s take-aways — that many will find this creepy and terminate a long-term relationship, and that the copywriter’s attempt at levity is more self-centered than satisfying — are completely valid and worth listening to, regardless of what age a marketer is. I’d trade a positive customer relationship for this kind of fake customer bonding stuff any day. Just because you have a technology or technique available doesn’t mean you can use it without foresight. You do so at your, or your client’s peril.

  22. Denny, you nailed it on the head. It’s creepy. And invasive. And superfluous. I research things all the time. Someone will ask me a question to which I don’t have an answer. Or I’ll say to myself "Self, what IS that? Let me look it up and find out." And that’s the entirety of my interest. Chasing me around the internet is almost the BEST way to insure I won’t ever, Ever, EVER buy anything from you EVER. In fact, I take it as a point of pride to say to myself (again) "Well, HELLO again WidgetCo! Since you won’t leave me alone, I’m going to make it a point to not only reject you and your advances, but to badmouth you to my friends."

    If PEOPLE did this, we’d make it illegal, and punish them. . .what’s that you say? Oh, yeah, it IS illegal, and in the REAL world, it’s called "stalking."

    This re-marketing, or re-targeting, or, perhaps more accurately, re-annoying, is the Internet equivalent of having the creepy guy you have no interest in follow you around the bar for the rest of the night, who won’t take the hint, and who keeps coming up with new lines to try to get you to talk to him. Why is it that no means no everywhere, and to everyone, except to these jaggo marketers?

    I can’t wait until someone comes up with a way to punish these jerks in the place where they live. . .their P&Ls. We need to find the "interweb" equivalent of a rolled-up newspaper, so we can swat them and say "NO"!

    (For the record, I don’t swat my dog, I just say no. . .unlike the re-targeters, he’s smart enough to understand a one-syllable word).

  23. Remember how "creepy" online dating used to be? Remember how "invasive" it was for an online company to store your credit card info so that you didn’t have to put it in again when you returned to purchase something?

    I’m with you guys. Trying to personalize my shopping experience and make it more relevant to ME is way out of line! Shame on those internet hotshots!

  24. As always, your post is quite entertaining. Although decades ago you criticized the WSJ for bashing direct mail since they were in the business of getting subscribers via that channel. Now your critical of re-targeting, a form of online advertising, that helps pay the bills for many publishers. Be careful watch you wish for. I also think the tiny type copy is not from Zappos, but from the re-targeting company to adhere to privacy rules.

  25. This is just how online advertising works and Zappos is one of the industry-leaders in this space. It doesn’t add to your argument to say "smug little twenty-somethings" and "zappos kids," it makes you sound bitter and ready to retire.

  26. I think those negative feelings in your gut are the realization you don’t understand your industry anymore. This entire article is written not from the standpoint of a professional marketer, but from a cranky consumer who thinks they know best but offers zero solutions. You can only say "i don’t like it, huff huff!". You sound like a bitter old man who’s career end is nigh. Meanwhile, in the real world, Zappos is one of the most respected web companies in the world, earning well over a billion in revenue every year.

    Also, Ed Sullivan, you don’t have to call it "the", you can just say "" or better yet "Zappos". This just gives away the fact that you can still only understand online businesses as novelties and not as the powerhouse companies that they are.

    I wonder, is this really the brand Target Marketing is pursuing for their content? You really want to be a forum for disgruntled marketers to air their greivances and rail against change? Because when all those people who can’t adapt are out of this industry in 5 years, the ‘smug twenty somethings’ will be the ones in their place, and to them, this publication will be archaic, pithy, and useless if you keep publishing drivel like this.

  27. I cringed as I read your rant. Were you really that upset? Your words make you sound bitted and to be honest, aged. I am 51 and think Zappo’s have some of the most brilliant marketing on the planet and far from being run my people who don’t care the ENTIRE ethos of the company is to care for people.

    As marketer myself [responsible for tens of millions of dollars in sales] I was at reading your post thinking? "What the heck was he thinking?"

  28. An inbound marketer might find this tech-driven “remarketing” an excellent way to drum up sales, but I also find it creepy, and yes, extremely interruptive and invasive — akin to trying on a pair of shoes at a store, and then having the salesman follow me around town for a week. Just because you can technically do something doesn’t mean you should. As a consumer, if I come back to your website, by all means remind me of what I was looking at and try to close the deal. But don’t tail me like the "I want my two dollars!" paperboy did to John Cusack in 1985’s "Better Off Dead."

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