Retargeted advertising: is it any good?

Posted by David Murton on Tue, Jul 01, 2014 @ 05:50 AM

Retargeted advertising is one of the advertising options that could only ever work on the internet.

Unlike other advertising avenues that can often work across digital and traditional platforms, retargeted advertising (which is also called 'retargeting advertising' and 'behavioural advertising') relies on being able to track users' online activity to work effectively. But the effectiveness of retargeted advertising is questionable, especially considering how much most people feel about ads that work based of their online activity.



A quick overview of retargeted advertising

In case you're not familiar with what retargeted advertising is, the idea is fairly straight forward. To keep it simple, a retargeted ad works by tracking your online activity. The tracking of online activity is done via cookies. When a user visits a site for the first time, a cookie is tied to that user (or the device that user is using when accessing the site). Once that cookie is tied to that user, each time the user accesses that site again, that cookie can be used to personalise that user's experience.

For example, if a user had accessed a fashion site and searched for jeans during their first visit, then the next time they visit the site could end up posting jeans as a suggested product on the front page. Retargeted advertising works in a similar way, only it involves the use of a unique ad-specific cookie.

If a site/company has signed up to use retargeted advertising (Google and Facebook offer such services), then it means the site will send a unique tracking cookie to the ad service they're using once a user accesses the site. As with the above example of someone searching for jeans on a fashion site, that fashion site will make note of the user's activity, create a unique retargeted ad cookie associated with that user, and that cookie will be sent to the advertising platform they're using.

The ad platform can then track when the user accesses a site where the retargeted ad will be served. With Facebook, the social network waits until the user signs in and serves a retargeted ad for that fashion site and its range of jeans. With Google, the ad can appear on any site that offers Google's retargeted ad service. So once that tracked user arrives on a Google-supported site, the retargeted ad can be served.


What's the appeal of retarged ads?

The main appeal of retargeted advertising is relevance. By tracking a user's online behaviour, the idea is that ads that cater more to their active interests can be considered more effective. Once again referring to the example of a user searching for jeans; the fundamental idea is that if they're looking at jeans, then a logical assumption is that they may be wanting to buy some. Pretty straightforward, right?

But as is often the case with consumers, the first search for a product can simply be a case of them seeing what's out there and for what price. The actual purchase may not occur in the first search. With retargeted ads, it gives companies the chance to remind a consumer of their brand and the products they have on offer. So if someone makes the initial search but then takes time to consider what they want, a business that uses a retargeted ad has the potential of capturing that individual before they decide to go with a different brand.

One of the key benefits of online advertising is that it can be more targeted, more personal; and retargeted ads is simply an evolution of that marketing philosophy.


More personal, but public perception isn't that good

According to research regarding retargeted ads, the general consensus is that, overall, most online users find them 'creepy'. While the statistics have likely changed over the past couple of years, I can vouch from conversations with friends and family about the increasingly targeted nature of online advertising that many of them don't really like it.

Research results listed on the website SEO Book found that the overwhelming response by those asked about retargeted ads had the following to say: "I dislike [retargeted advertising] because it feels creepy". The total percentage of the 1,250 people surveyed who felt this way sat at 62.3%. The key issue here, as it is with most aspects of the internet, comes down to privacy.

While many will tell you that you forego your right to privacy as soon as you create any account online, the truth is that privacy still needs to be respected. When you have companies such as Google and Facebook offering businesses the opportunity to craft ads that respond to user activity, this is still something that can fall under the issue of privacy. Sure, that cookie may not personally identify any user, but it's still a matter of something tracking a user's activity to serve a very specific ad to them on a different site.

When advertising becomes too specific, it starts to unnerve people. However, there is truth in the fact that people who have grown up in the internet age (notably starting with Gen Y) have less of an issue with this sort of advertising. Users who fit into this demographic (and below) tend to accept and understand that a certain level of their privacy is going to be compromised online, no matter what. So the idea of dealing with retargeted ads is less daunting/disturbing.

Ultimately, retargeted advertising can be effective, it just depends on who is exposed to the ads. A younger audience is more likely to appreciate the 'relevance' of the ads, whereas older online users will probably find them invasive. Often, however, this is the pitfall of most online advertising. You will get those who love more relevant ads, and you'll get those who despise them.


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Margin Media is an inbound marketing company based in Brisbane. We offer a range of digital marketing solutions to help your business increase its website trafficqualified leads and customer base. To find out more about our services, visit our home page.

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Topics: Advertising Tips

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