What is Ad Retargeting? Cookies and the Display Advertising Boom

You will have undoubtedly seen it before; head to your favourite clothes store online to check out a few items for your holiday then check flight prices and hotel rates in one of the many major travel websites.

You don’t make a purchase on any site and you don’t share your contact details with them. Yet, upon arriving at your favourite blog or music streaming site you begin to see a constant stream of ads for flights, clothing and hotels.

Welcome to the world of ad retargeting. It is by no means a new technology but is certainly an innovative and potentially controversial buzz word in online marketing right now.

The New EU Cookie Directive

I don’t know about you, but to me the phrase “EU Cookie Directive” conjures up memories of mid-nineties dance tracks – but I digress. The Urban Cookie Collective The EU Cookie Directive – some say – was devised with the sole purpose of combatting/regulating the ever growing industry of cookie based display advertising.

For more on the cookie directive, please see Nadeem’s post on the legislation from March 2011.

I have mixed feelings about this type of advertising, on one hand I am of the opinion of “hey, if I am interested in that particular product (i.e. flights) and the ads are dynamically updating me on prices why not show me them” and the other hand is “hmm, this is a little uncomfortable, and slightly intrusive”

Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

Step 1:

Your travel/clothing site collects data about your visit and stores it within your browser by cookie.

Step 2:

Your favourite blog allocates advertising space to one of many ad retargeting platforms

Step 3:

Upon visiting the blog, your browser cookie interracts with the ad retargeting network to display relevant ads.

This ad display continues until the cookie on your browser expires.

The new cookie directives though have had some impact. This technology has been around for a while, without the opportunity to opt-out but on almost all ad creative nowadays you are given the chance to remove yourself from those networks (pictured) within a link for “Ad Choices”. AdRoll have the pick of these for me, with an overlay offering the opportunity to get more information and to opt-out when clicked.

This is a step in the right direction, I think ultimately it is a very smart way of proactively advertising products and as long as users are given the opportunity to browse incognito it works.

There are several early movers in this new tech boom, each with slightly differing services. Right now I would say ReTargeter, AdRoll and Criteo are the front runners with quite a wide reach, but a whole sub-industry is developing for the actual creation of these dynamic ads themselves (for more e-commerce led advertisers) with Struq currently pioneering the dynamic creation ad retargeting model, retailers can link product inventories to the Struq network for ‘on-the-fly’ ad creation based on previously viewed items, really innovative stuff.

It is an interesting time for, and puts a whole new spin on display advertising. I have no doubt whatsoever that this will improve ROI for advertisers, with a one-time-cost PPC click potentially resulting in hundreds of targeted ad display impressions to interested parties.

Costs for advertisers run in the order of £350 ($500) per month for the lowest packages on all networks, but AdRoll offers a two week free trial. Retargeting ads sit separately to any other display advertising/PPC activity.

In the interests of balance, here are the links to opt-out from the various display networks:

AdRoll Opt Out
Criteo Opt Out
ReTargeter Opt Out
Struq Opt Out

Or head to new startup Privacy Choice for tools and info on ad tracking: privacychoice.org

I for one am keeping an eye on what opportunities this represents for digital marketing agencies, and actually lean more towards the “this is good for the industry” camp.

Keen to hear any thoughts on whether this is intrusive for users, ingenious for advertisers or a bit of both.


    One Response to “What is Ad Retargeting? Cookies and the Display Advertising Boom”

    1. I think this is great for digital marketing agencies, as it helps improve the ROI of any campaign. I do think however that there should be a compulsory cap on the maximum number of times you should be exposed to an ad daily as this can become trully annoying.

      But all in all I think that, even if it feels a “big brothery”, the more relevant the add, the less annoying they become.