The Pros And Cons Of Retargeting In Advertising


The Pros And Cons Of Retargeting In Advertising

by ICC on April 1, 2018
April 1, 2018 / by / in

Ever notice how you seem to get repetitive ads for a product or service that you have looked up before? A plane ticket, say, or a pair of hiking boots. You looked it up one afternoon, but then had second thoughts, or got distracted, and now ads for that same thing keep popping up in your Facebook newsfeed or below cat videos on YouTube. This is retargeting.

Retargeting works by including a pixel (line of code) on a webpage. When someone visits that page, the pixel drops a cookie into their browser which tracks that user and targets them with specific ads—specific to the product, service or brand they had been looking at. The result is a bunch of banner ads diligently following that potential customer, reminding them of the product or service, and telling them to take action (“BUY NOW!”).

This is a revolutionary marketing tool, and one with great potential for improving brand recognition and conversion rates. However, not everyone appreciates the upsides. Retargeting is a marketing tactic that has both pros and cons. If you are considering retargeting as a marketing tool, here is a breakdown of the good and the bad.


IMPROVES BRAND RECOGNITION: One basic and virtually undeniable benefit of retargeting is that repeated exposure improves brand recognition. The more someone sees your brand, the more likely they will be to recognize it in the future and consumers are more likely to buy a product from a brand that they know. Reinforcement is a fundamental component of learning, and it is also something that retargeting is great at. Numerous studies have shown that the context of the exposure is less important than the exposure itself, and retargeting definitely delivers.

ENCOURAGES RETURN: So someone visited your site but left without buying anything—that doesn’t necessarily mean that they decided against it. The internet is loaded with distractions, and internet users have decidedly short attention spans. Maybe someone sent them a hilarious video, or their phone rang, or they realized they just didn’t need your product at that moment. Without retargeting, that potential customer could be lost to you forever.

Retargeting sends that potential customer little reminders. The typical retargeted ad is a banner—aesthetically pleasing, often funny, and always with a call to action. Perhaps the potential customer will change their mind after seeing the product a few more times, or presented at a discount. Maybe they now have the cash to make a purchase. Essentially, retargeting gives you more opportunities to make an impression, and encourages the potential customer to return to your site.

Most internet users do not click banner ads, so it is difficult to track retargeting directly. However, applications such as Google Analytics will track traffic to your website. If a marked increase corresponds with your campaign, well, the cause is clear.

COST EFFECTIVE: If someone visited your site once, chances are very high that they are at least somewhat interested in what you have to offer. By focusing advertising efforts on individuals who have already demonstrated an interest in your brand, you are simply reinforcing an interest that already existed. Unlike other forms of marketing, which may offer your message to a broad audience—many of whom will frankly not care a whit about your business—retargeting is specifically marketing toward an interested audience. You’ve narrowed the odds that the recipient of the ad will respond.

This increased efficiency pays off. Studies have shown that retargeting provides a much higher return-on-investment (ROI) than other forms of digital marketing. Since the marketing “hunt” has effectively been removed from the equation, retargeting is often a cheap alternative to other strategies, and typically boasts lower cost-per-click.


IT’S ANNOYING: Creepy, weird, and annoying are three words often used to describe retargeting. Too many impressions is the main cause for complaint—it seems that some retargeters simply don’t know when to stop.

When an interested user looks at a digital camera then has that same camera follow them around for weeks, plastered all over every site, it may do a little more than improve brand recognition—it’s going to drive that person nuts. Making your product a source of frustration is not exactly the best way to make people buy it. As a rule, humans do not appreciate being pestered.

IT CAN BE INEFFECTIVE: Retargeting is particularly annoying for customers who have already been converted—that is, who have already made a purchase, or even bought the very product that is being advertised to them.

Be careful when selecting your retargeter, and choose one that employs segmentation (showing different ads to visitors with different degrees of loyalty—i.e. interested versus converted). Moreover, ensure that a “burn pixel” (that magical line of code that releases a customer from targeted ads once they have made a purchase) is included on your thank-you page in order to spare your new customer the now redundant campaign.

IT CAN BE OFFENSIVE: Some see retargeting as an invasion of privacy—a prickly issue in today’s social climate. While retargeting does not collect personally identifiable information—i.e. information such as age or gender which could be used to identify an individual—many still feel that it is inappropriate. While retargeting complies with laws and regulations, it simply does not feel right to some internet users, and viewing your brand through such means may cause them to view your brand in a negative light. While many internet users do not feel this way, some do, and using retargeting will inevitably alienate them.


Retargeting is a marketing tool that can be extremely effective and helpful for your business, but it isn’t without its drawbacks. Improved brand recognition, increased return traffic and moderate cost are countered by the risk of annoying or offending potential customers, or simply missing the mark altogether. It is best to evaluate your current marketing strategy and your long-term goals in order to decide whether retargeting is right for your business.