First, a history lesson:
There is no such thing as a bad idea on the internet, just an idea that isn’t ready yet. Back in 2000, Urbanfetch and Kozmo both had the same idea – (similar to the point that one sued the other) that you could make money by delivering things to people as quickly as possible after they’d paid for them on a website.
Unfortunately, as quickly as possible and as quickly as you can afford don’t always overlap, and although there were a certain number of internet-connected, cash rich time poor individuals in London at the turn of the century, they didn’t live close enough together to Urbanfetch’s distribution centres and they didn’t spend often enough to keep these companies from going out of business. Which is the longwinded way of me saying damn it, Urbanfetch, I still want that carton of ice cream and Leaving Las Vegas DVD* I ordered from you 16 years ago, that never turned up.
But ideas don’t die; they just wait until there are sufficient people online and close enough to one another that the network effects mount up and make their execution feasible. Which was why late last year, Deliveroo launched in Singapore and (so far so good) have not gone bust with a business model that consisted of transporting hot food from restaurant to person-with-a-smartphone, when Urbanfetch couldn’t even manage it with bags of peanuts and ice cream a decade and a half ago.
Because Deliveroo provide a handy list of your entire account history, I can see that on the 3rd of December last year, at 8:15, I made my first order, a pizza from Extra Virgin. Now, you might think Deliveroo’s service wasn’t very innovative, because restaurants have delivered food for years, but since Extra Virgin’s highly specific catchment area meant I could only order a pizza from them if I lived across the street from where my apartment was located, and never from my own flat, the idea that a man would be brave enough to bring me high-quality pizza on a moped truly felt like I’d arrived at the twenty-first century.
That wasn’t the main reason. The main reason was because I was a little sad and a little lonely, on my own in my flat with my family half the world away, and I found a flyer for Deliveroo in my mailbox promising me a discount on my first order, and no need to pay the man with the moped. I was sold.
In the weeks that came and went, I became a loyal customer. At home, at work, wherever I went and knew my postcode, I could get pizza swiftly. It helped that in the early days, when deliveries were late they credited me with a $15 discount off my next order. That would be delayed too, rolling over my discount to another booking. At one point I dreamed that I would never pay full price for dinner again. But there was a core of sadness even in my joyful relationship with Deliveroo.
How do I put it? You had me at “free delivery and $15 discount on your first order”.
Why does this matter? Because of remarketing.
Remarketing is a wonderful technique where we show adverts to people, based on things they have already done. Look at a hotel on Expedia – when their advertising servers find you again, they can then show you another advert for that same hotel. Look at a book on Amazon, or a pair of shoes on Zappos, and again, adverts will follow you around the web. If done well, these can be a final nudge to remind you of the thing you wanted, shift you from browser to buyer. If done badly, every time you go on any web page that includes advertising, for the next year you’re seeing an advert for the same hotel you didn’t want to reserve a room at three months ago. Here’s a picture to show how it works (at a non-technical level):
Every single advert I see is for Deliveroo.
I have used Deliveroo on my work computer when I was working late at night in the office. I have used Deliveroo on my Surface when I’m at home. I have panic-ordered from Deliveroo from my phone when I’m walking home and won’t have time to make dinner for the kids and get them to bed at a respectable hour. I have used my wife’s iPad when all else failed. And every time I look at any web page that isn’t Deliveroo, there’s that turquoise-green square with the hideous looking kangaroo inside it, extolling the benefits of Deliveroo and telling me I can order food and have it delivered.
I already buy dinner from Deliveroo too many times every week. Why they’ve singled me out for this intensive messaging is beyond me. Well, almost beyond me. I have several hypotheses for why they keep battering my eyeballs with more ads.
Maybe they don’t care about how many times they show me ads. Maybe it doesn’t matter that at 2 in the morning, I can be on The Guardian’s website and be seeing an advert for ribs. Because perhaps there are enough insomniacs desperate for barbecued pork in Singapore that a blunderbus-style approach makes sense.
Or maybe they have to spend money on advertising whether they want to or not. Perhaps when they sign restaurants up to Deliveroo, they contract to spend a certain amount on advertising that restaurant, and, in some other world, there just aren’t enough available impressions to buy to spend the budget, unless they keep hammering me with ads.
Or maybe Deliveroo hate me for some reason (I haven’t been tipping the deliverymen enough) and that makes me a terrible customer who they want to go away and order from Foodpanda instead. Their only mechanism for doing so: aversion therapy via remarketing, every time I buy from Deliveroo.
Or, it could be that I’m part of some large behavioural experiment. I won’t ever know that, because I’m in a test group that’s labelled ‘Hit These Guys With Adverts All The Damn Time’ and some clever people at Deliveroo (they have quite a few data scientists in London, last time I looked) are running the numbers and seeing that people in my segment tend to buy so much more than the ones that aren’t exposed, and that justifies the extra spend. And although I spend my day job working on ways to prove the incremental benefit of advertising spend, it’s hard to accept that I too might just be a statistical variation and not somebody whose every thought is unique and special. I want to shout out, declare my individuality, tell Deliveroo that I don’t buy things because of your ads, I buy things because I’m cripplingly disorganised and hungry. Otherwise I’d just be stuffing rolled up slices of Tofurkey into my mouth all night long and weeping. I know this, because that was how I used to live. I love you. So please shut up.
Or it could just be that nobody has implemented conversion pixels on the Deliveroo website and remembered to set up negative remarketing lists to stop recent customers getting advertised to. But it’s not like Occam’s Razor is much fun now, is it?
* A strong competitor, surely, for the Worst Romantic Evening In Ever: “Darling, fancy coming round to eat Ben & Jerry’s and watch Nicolas Cage drink himself to death?