The Myth of Flawed Retargeting


A few days ago I read a piece entitled ‘Retargeting is Flawed; The Future is Pretargeting’, it suggested that the targeting of the future will be based on what we are about to do, not what we’ve just done. When this is widely used it will be a great addition to the marketing mix but when only 2% of users are buying the first time they visit a site, is it really viable as a replacement for retargeting?

Highlighted in the piece were some of the traditional myths surrounding the issues of retargeting, however these complaints are becoming more outdated by the day – the future may be closer than you think.

Myth 1:  Retargeting targets only those that have already purchased

I have of course seen several tweets where people complain that they are seeing ads for things they have already bought. Rest assured this is not on purpose. The reason that this myth exists is that 70% of people will complete a purchase on a different device to the one they started on.

Every retargeter can now retarget on multiple devices. I.e. if a user turns up on computer they can be retargeted on computer and similarly retargeters now have the ability to show ads on the mobile channel as well. However unlike multi device retargeting many do not have the ability to retarget across devices, that is if I visit your site on my computer then browse on my smartphone a cross device retargeter will show me ads on my mobile that have been influenced by what I viewed on my computer.

So in a traditional retargeting setting if I start off on my computer and then purchase on my smartphone the retargeter will never know and will show me ads, for that product that I bought on my smartphone, on my computer.

What in fact happens is that, instead of targeting those that have bought (a tiny percentage of the user population), retargeters will now place tags on the home page, product pages and checkout pages and serve personalized ads based on the products browsed and where that user is in their purchase journey. Now with cross device retargeting those ads can be even more relevant and personalized on any device, based on other devices browsing histories.

Myth 2: There is no predictive technology in retargeting

Now that we have established that a retargeter would never knowingly serve an ad of a product already purchased and the technology exists to stop this issue, the question arises; how does a retargeter know what ad to show?

Dynamic Content Optimisation (DCO) builds a personalized ad in the 25 milliseconds that a web page is loading, that ad will be tailored according to user history and context. If a user made it to a product page and did not buy then it is ‘predicted’ that the user is still interested in the product and so that product will be shown in the ad. If a user buys a pair of shorts, like any good salesman the DCO engine will pick a t-shirt to go with them. This way the ad is always complimentary to the user’s brand experience, not redundant as many believe. In the article we are told “The art director and copywriter team of the future is the algorithm and processor” – again the future is already here, with a tech stack building a bespoke ad for every user.

Myth 3: Privacy is a lost battle

In the article it is mentioned that we should just accept that privacy is a lost battle. This is a pretty horrifying notion, not to mention unnecessary. Every user targeted by the tech mentioned above is nothing but a hashed input in a massive mound of data. If you buy fluorescent hot pants tomorrow I couldn’t dive into the data and tell all your friends about it, you should be allowed to do that in your own time. Privacy is now, and should always be, of paramount importance for advertisers and vendors alike.

So, like many things in the advertising world, retargeting is not flawed but clearly misunderstood. It is an industry that serves the fast moving, tech savvy consumer world and as such many providers are sometimes a step behind but for the rest the future of retargeting is already here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here