The problem with behavioural targeting

In case you’re not au fait with the term, behavioural targeting is when brands use your online behaviour to show you relevant online ads. In short – visit a website and show interest in its products and you might be shown an ad for them, or several dozen, in the near future.

Some people find this disturbing, but I mostly think it’s fine (though I don’t love the Zoopla ads that manage to show me flats to rent on my actual street. That’s a bit much.)

Currently, I am being behaviourally targeted by Clarks. Last week, after buying an incredibly uncomfortable pair of pumps from Aldo, I realised I would need to buy a pair I could walk in without my feet bleeding. Cue Clarks; trusty Clarks with its lovely shoes you can walk in. So I had a look at some styles online.

Now Clarks is chasing me all over the internet. Here they are at the Guardian.

They’re even there when I pop back to look at my old, spam-filled Hotmail account.

I can’t blame Clarks for this – I’m sure there’s a calculated payback. But it’s not really targeting my behaviour. All it’s doing is taking a record of one site visit, when my actual behaviour is much more complex.

Firstly, I don’t buy shoes online. And secondly, mere metres from the door of our office, is a branch of Clarks.  I live near Ealing where there are another two branches.

But where is the ‘I work opposite a Clarks, stop showing me this advert’ button? I feel bad for them, chasing me around the internet and wasting their money.

Last year I was being chased around the internet by Coast, after looking at wedding-type dresses on their site. Again – not something I’d buy online. But there’s no method of making this clear.

Maybe Clarks feels it’s still good value, even if I wouldn’t buy – they know I like their shoes and this way they can show me styles I might like (all the ads were for pumps – no towering heels – so they are targeted).

But currently, the discussions around behavioural targeting are about whether you opt in or opt out. I don’t really want to opt out. I buy online regularly – this could work for some things. Despite the creepiness from Zoopla, I might one day want to move into a new flat. But it could be better.

If Clarks was really targeting my behaviour, then they’d be better off handing out leaflets outside our office. I’d be in there like a shot.