I’ll Be Watching You: Why Retargeting Ads are Cool & Creepy


Retargeting ads. If you are not yet familiar with them by their technical name, chances are, you’ve become acquainted with them while surfing the web.

For example, when you’re doing some online window shopping through Banana Republic’s latest arrivals for Winter, and that sweet jewel-toned cardi (that perfectly matches the pencil skirt you bought a few weeks ago!!) is now popping up in the form of a totally non-creepy (ok, its kinda creepy) web ad on the subsequent web pages you visit.

Is it just me, or does the process remind you at all of that song by The Police, “I’ll be watching you?”

Humor aside, retargeting ads are in a sense designed to do just that…watch and follow you around the web. Is it creepy? Is it stalkerish? Call it what you will…but they’re also a genius method of wooing customers back to your site and (hopefully) make a purchase.

Consider this: 2% of shoppers convert on their first visit to an online store. Retargeting brings the other 98% back.

In a day and age when attention spans are getting shorter and shorter ad shiny object syndrome is a rampant epidemic, retargetering ads serve as a means to refocus the diverted attention of potential customers, the window shoppers, and those who aren’t quiet ready to pull the trigger on a purchase.

How Do Retargeting Ads Work?

In a nutshell, the process of retargeting keeps track of people who visit a site, and then displays retargeting ads to them when they are visiting other websites. In general, there are two types of retargeting ads—pixel-based and list-based. Pixel-based retargeting shows the ad to any anonymous visitor to a site, whereas list-based retargeting is created off of contact information marketers already have in their database. Each take a slightly different approach, but of course share the common bond of bringing customers back to a a site to convert them.

Image credit: Retargeter

 Let It Burn

There is nothing more annoying than a retargeting ad that just won’t quit. It doesn’t take the hint you aren’t taking the bait. Which leads us to what I believe is the most important step to setting up a successful retargeting campaign: Set a frequency cap and burn code!

When you’re setting up a retargeting campaign, always use a frequency cap.

Why? Overexposure. Just because a prospect visits your site a few times doesn’t mean they want to see ads from your brand EVERYWHERE they browse. A frequency cap limits the amount of ads they see, so they aren’t overwhelmed or annoyed by your content.

Also, don’t forget to set a burn code. Why is this key to the process? Just as it is annoying for prospects to be inundated by your ads before they make a purchase, it is equally annoying when they make a purchase and are STILL followed around by your ads.

These new customers can still be part of a retargeting campaign, but don’t ask them to take the same action twice. Take the opportunity to judicially cross-sell, upsell, or offer referral discounts through new ads.

You got the customer (yay!). Do yourself a favor, and keep the around by setting that burn code on that initial ad. You’ll be a better marketer for it!

Lend me your thoughts…

What’s the verdict: Do you think retargeting ads are cool, creepy…or both?





2 thoughts on “I’ll Be Watching You: Why Retargeting Ads are Cool & Creepy

  1. Greetings Gumption Marketing!

    Thanks so much for sharing about retargeting ads! I have heard the song “I’ll be watching you” playing in my head when I’m searching online and realize that I’m seeing ads for the fabulous shoes I searched for but could not afford to buy. How did you know? 🙂 It’s a little big brother’ish but seems like a very effective marketing strategy. I found the following infographic from Syndacast about retargeting statistics to be extremely enlightening, http://syndacast.com/infographic-retargeting-the-7-must-know-facts/. “The key statistics/take aways from this retargeting infographic are:

    – Consumer’s reactions to online ads show that 30% are positive, 11% negative and 59% neutral.

    – Retargeted ads led to a +1046% increase in branded search.

    – Web visitors who have been retargeted with display ads are 70% more likely to convert.

    – Websites see a 726% lift in site visitation after 4 weeks of retargeting exposure.

    – Retargeting can increase conversion rates by as high as 147%.

    – 72% of online shoppers are likely to abandon their carts before checking out. Without retargeting, only 8% of those customers return to complete their transaction.”

    Thanks again for sharing and have a good one!


  2. Jessica, great insights on retargeting! Cookie-based ad targeting isn’t a new concept, but what has changed is the level of invasiveness of these ads. And, with the help of big data, marketers are able to profile a more detailed analysis of their targeted customer. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) retargeting is a technique “that uses the power of data to help brands design more penetrative ad campaigns.”

    CRM retargeting utilizes online and offline data, marrying online and offline marketing for brands to seamlessly communicate with their audience. A company’s CRM database contains information about consumers the company has previously done business with, or may currently be doing business with. By helping companies merge offline consumer data and online behavior, CRM retargeting allows companies to know their customers better than ever before, and thus ads will become more relevant, and the results more positive. One thing to consider about CRM retargeting is that online advertising will become more focused on identity, rather than behavior. Do you think CRM retargeting is too invasive? Is it an invasion of privacy by utilizing previous purchases and interactions with the company to target the consumer online?

    I couldn’t figure out how to hyperlink to this article, but below is a link to a Forbes article explaining CRM retargeting:


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