What Moroccan street markets can teach us about ad retargeting.

Author: symbio


We’ve all experienced ads online that follow us around as you browse the web. “Retargeting ads” as the phenomena has come to be called, works by keeping track of sites people visit and target display ads based on their browsing history. What for digital can seem like a new sales-technique however has existed as long as there has been street markets – which is pretty much forever. 

How Moroccan merchants remarket

Anyone who’s ever visited a Moroccan market have experienced the sales techniques of these ancient places of trade. Much like the online banner advertisements, merchants repetitively yell various incentives to buy, be it to bring awareness to unique products such as bags, belts and carpets or to bring attention to the price of various commodities such as tomatoes and olives. A Moroccan street market therefore emulates our very noisy online environment where brands struggle to make their voice heard and consumers do their best to ignore a majority of commercial messages.

Not only does the Moroccan salesmen compete to drive traffic to their stands, they also improve conversions by mastering the ancient art of remarketing, or pursuing people who abandon their shops/stalls. The closer to a sale, the more persistently the merchant seems to pursue his customer until he/she politely dismisses or finally agrees to buy. While he mainly haggles about price, the merchant may – contrary to current online practices – also emphasize emotional aspects such as beauty, uniqueness and quality when price fails. In today’s e-commerce however, retargeting ads exclusively focus on providing a visual reminder of the product and its price. Now, we can ask ourselves if this is really the most sophisticated remarketing technique we can come up with in the world of big data? Remember, traditional ad-spots on TV are mainly driven by emotion, and loosely based on data and do a great job at activating audiences, while e-commerce on the other hand is largely data-driven, and rarely influenced by storytelling and emotions.


Don’t just echo previously browsed content.

Can a more emotional approach be appropriate when retargeting customers in e-commerce to re-kindle faded impulses and passions activated by TV and traditional ads? While brands like Zappos are great at bombarding us with retargeting ads based on prior viewed content, they’re basically echoing what we’ve browsed – how exciting.

Instead, consider the shopper who adds a pair of Nike’s to a shopping cart and abandons the process. Wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to show an emotionally charged video showcasing the benefits of Nike running shoes with Nike+? Maybe the optimal retargeting ad therefore is when users are targeted based on both intent, timing, and big-data analysis with creative and emotional content.

Maybe there is something to it.  

Now, we can ask ourselves what’s more effective? Naturally this will depend on if we’re dealing with speciality products (Chanel silk scarves) or commodities (Toilet paper), as emotion plays a very different role in these cases. However, as more and more commodities turn into brands or speciality products such as Evian Water, Nespresso Coffee or evenBeats Headphones or Apple Telephones for that matter, a gentle reminder not of only price but of actual unique, emotional propositions for choosing a product has an effect when re-targeting ads online. If the Moroccan merchants have done it for two thousand years, maybe there’s something to it.

Nicolas Makelberge [Strategic Planner]


Author: symbio

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