It’s funny how it takes an event of world-shaking proportions for marketers to look inward.

The processes, policies and ‘best practice’ we need to be checking and rechecking every once in a while to see if we’re not crossing the line or at the very least not being dishonest to our customers simply go by unchecked.

Until things happen. Like Cambridge Analytica.

The Cambridge Analytica and Facebook issue is something most digital marketers would balk at on the surface. We outrage, post statuses and tweets, like posts with ‘angry’ emojis, join petitions and threaten to #DeleteFacebook.

And yet.

Here’s one thing I know many, many, many digital marketers and marketing agencies and most major brands do, without questioning the processes and which can easily allow for a breach in confidentiality, data privacy laws, and most of all personal accountability.


Remarketing is the current go-to for most digital marketers currently coming into the self-AdWords serving circuit. It’s one thing to go after agencies that manage this for you, it’s a completely different thing when doing it yourself.

What is remarketing? It’s when you show tailored ads to people who’ve visited your website and/or any pages within it. That’s why, these days when you surf anywhere (on websites or social media), you see an ad for a product you just checked out somewhere else. Saw a pair of shoes on sale on a retailer’s site? Lo and behold, that retailer’s team is going to now show you that shoe’s ad everywhere you go until you actually buy it. This isn’t just done by Google, but by most social networks, and more powerfully by Facebook.

On its own, that’s fine, if only a bit annoying. Here’s where it becomes interesting to me.

Google AdWords allows you to remarket to lists as well. Yes, if you have an email database of clients, customers, prospects and suspects, you can upload your ENTIRE list, whether segmented or not, into Google (which basically means into every single place on the internet Google can market to them) and then let Google show them ads for your products.

On paper, that’s amazing. I can target all those people who I collected emails for, directly, with my ads.

In reality, this is where it becomes an issue: legalities and permissions.

Is your data opted-in? Did you get permission from those customers to market to them online via ads? Did you get permission to upload their contacts into Google, a third party? The sheer number of questions regarding rights to data and, conversely, privacy, boggles the mind and I can’t list them all here.

I asked a few digital marketing managers in the UAE this question, and lo and behold they had never considered these concerns. These are marketers in global, multi-billion dollar companies. I’m not saying they are bad marketers, on the contrary they’re some of the best I know. I’m talking about the lack of clarity today on advanced targeting methods that incorporate user data. With Cambridge Analytica’s underhandedness, how is this different?

This raises another interesting issue that while I know is a global issue for digital marketers, it is ridiculously problematic in the Middle East: data expiry.

On average, data is considered expired every 24 months. High-turnover roles like marketing, construction and hospitality are at 18 months. In the GCC however, I reckon this data is potentially at risk of expiring every 15 months, given the high rate of employee churn here due to various factors.

So, for all intents and purposes, the average list being uploaded into Google for remarketing purposes can potentially contain dead data.

I’ll close here with that last line hopefully giving pause to digital analysts and AdWords professionals in the region. No explanation needed.

Share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to know what you think about this.