Thousands of marketing messages compete for our attention daily. Some are passive, like food labels. Others are more intrusive, like TV commercials. Either way, most marketing material is wallpaper adding to background noise.

Thanks to Tivo, the “skip” button, and the likes of CAN-SPAM compliance (for email marketers), we can figuratively (or literally) turn the page on advertising. It’s easy to “tune out” and “unsubscribe”, unless of course you click on an ad.

A “click” signals to Google, other search engines, and ad servers that you want to “learn more” about a product or service. Even if you “bounce” off that web page, hitting “back” immediately, a little parasite (i.e. tracking code) may start following you while you browse. When this happens, you start seeing display ads desperately trying to lure you back. This practice is called “remarketing” or “retargeting”.

Remarketing can be helpful, or very annoying. It all depends. Some purchase decisions take time, and reminders are relevant. However, if you fall victim to native advertising (or an ad disguised as content) you may be sorry you clicked. For example, if you were curious about “melting belly fat” and bounced of the page in disgust, you could start seeing banners passive-aggressively calling you fat.

The worst part is, “clicking” is not the only behavior that unlocks an advertising beast. On Amazon, you could be stalked just for using their search bar!  Note, I’m not talking about their “recommendation engine”, which shows what “you might like too” based on purchases. In this instance, a recognized Amazon user gets bombarded with ads and emails just for “looking”.

It’s sort of like a bad date. If you “pass” on what’s “available”, Amazon will still beg you to check out the same goods that didn’t turn you on the first time. It’s as though your “not interested” signals don’t register. That’s why follow-up “calls” don’t stop. Even a free dinner or coupon won’t convert you.

This is why consumers hate sharing data; we feel violated. Even on Facebook, which limits advertising, setting your “relationship status” actually means “available” to marketers. If “it’s complicated” you could see ads for divorce lawyers. Or, if you’re “in a relationship”, you could see diamond ring ads, whether marriage-ready or not. Worse yet, if your Facebook account and online purchases are linked to the same email address, you might even see a honeymoon lingerie ad stipulating your bra size (why thanks Victoria’s Secret! Glad my size is available!).

Granted this is an extreme example, but social and CRM (customer data) integration is a hot marketing recipe. Thanks to big data mining techniques, digital marketers whip up quite the concoction. They slice and and dice personal data from credit cards and shopping carts, and pepper in geo-tracking, demographic and social stats. In turn, these advanced analytics help anticipate what people will purchase. While it’s obscenely sophisticated, predictive marketing, which is similar to remarketing, can feel too relevant. Not all consumers find it appetizing, and some want to puke.

Obviously, aggressive remarketing must be working though. Otherwise advertisers wouldn’t do it. Nevertheless, a “Pavlov’s Dogs” “someone will click” approach may be short-sighted. When consumers feel annoyed and violated, it’s very hard to win them back.

Luckily, digital advertisers can control their level of intrusiveness. It’s not like a TV commercial, which airs incessantly due to low ratings and stiff cancellation policies. Instead, in the world of cyberspace, marketers can exercise a different set of options.

Set a Frequency Cap

Since remarketed ads “ask for date #2”, hounding someone endlessly probably won’t work. The number of times a consumer sees a message, and when it happens, should be carefully considered. That’s why Google Adwords (and other ad platforms) offer “advanced options” to control message frequency. It’s worth investigating to avoid annoying customers.

Account for the Conversion

A “thank you” goes a long way, especially in digital advertising. If someone completes a purchase or call to action (such as registration) they should see a confirmation page thanking them. This way, these folks are separated from those being lured back to complete the purchase or other task. If using Google Adwords, a “custom combination” remarketing list can filter out “converted” customers who saw the confirmation.  Other ad platforms track “thank you” pages the same way.

Change Creative

Ads are like people; they need to retire at some point. When ad content is fresh and relevant, it’s a “workhorse” for business growth. If it’s old, tired and worn out, it’s ineffective, like background wallpaper. In a perfect world, an ad agency tackles this problem, but let’s get real here. Small to mid size businesses probably don’t have this luxury. Even dedicated marketing directors get busy and overlook this. That’s why tools like Google “ad builder” make it easy to expand your creative pool. Even a copy brush-up will help.

Exclude “Bouncers”

If someone “bounces” off an ad page in two seconds, chances are they do not need to “think about it”. That’s why marketers should avoid stalking these people. If using Google Adwords, “bouncers” can be excluded by creating a custom combination remarketing list. Other ad platforms offer similar filters as they help increase conversion rates.

Between all four of these remarketing techniques, advertisers become much less annoying. In turn, consumers are less likely to feverishly hunt for an “Ad Choices” button and clear out their browsing data.

Then again, if newer techniques like “uplift marketing” are implemented, maybe disgruntled people like me could be avoided altogether. That my friends is a whole other subject.