How not to do remarketing

Discover the five common mistakes advertisers make when running display remarketing campaigns – and how to avoid them.

Remarketing done well can be a super clever and subtle way to prompt your ideal audience to re-engage with that product or brand they’ve already shown an interest in.

In fact, remarketing can be a hugely effective tool when executed correctly, and is an integral part of most successful ‘performance’ campaigns. Delivering the right message, to the right audience, at the right time will be key in helping prospective customers make an informed decision.

Unfortunately, remarketing is so often poorly executed, that it’s giving digital marketing a bad name, frequently being described as ‘annoying’ or ‘creepy’. Brands often end up bombarding customers with intrusive and aggressive messaging, giving them an entirely negative experience with said brand, and so defeating the object.

Here we take a look at five common mistakes advertisers make when running display remarketing campaigns – and the steps you can take to avoid them.

Mistake 1 – Being overly aggressive in your targeting

Your customer has put a product in their basket, but has not converted.

You’ve definitely got the right audience, so it’s easy to think ‘go go go’.  In some scenarios that could be correct. For example, gig ticket prices – they’ve considered the purchase, they’re in the market to buy, but they just want the best price.  Hey presto, we have a winner! The reason it makes sense to push hard here is because the competition is fierce, and the brand loyalty might be low.

It’s important not to fall too easily into this tactic, whereby the customer is bombarded with offer after offer, turning them against a premium product.


You need to make sure you’ve taken the time to segment your audience correctly and then aim to have sequential remarketing in place; based on the actions people take, rather than using a one-size-fits-all solution.

All remarketing should also contain Conversion Point Exclusions – this means once the customer has converted (made a purchase), then ads stop appearing.  With the right use of pixels and audience exclusions, customers can be targeted far more effectively.

Mistake 2 – Wasting ad budget on loyal customers

Would that customer have converted anyway? Timing is everything.

Although it can be difficult to truly know whether a customer would have purchased regardless of your remarketing ad, it’s vital to take steps to try to do so, as there’s nothing worse than wasting precious ad budget on already loyal customers.


The best way to avoid spending ad budget on customers who would have converted anyway,  is to have a time break before reaching said customer with your remarketing message. It’s advisable to leave a time delay of at least 24 hours; however this will vary depending on the consideration period associated with the product in question.  

Another really interesting solution is using ‘ghost impressions’.  This helps you understand the organic conversion rate of different site visitors.  For example, what your conversion rate would be if you ran no retargeting at all. See how Avocet, one of our key partners, describes exactly this:

“Retargeting is a great way to achieve easy conversions at a positive ROI. However, what people often forget is, a lot of those users were going to convert regardless and bombarding them with retargeting ads has no incremental value to the advertiser. Ghost impressions help you understand which of your retargeting audiences are already likely to convert and which ones need additional advertising to re-engage and retain, enabling you to focus retargeting budgets on the areas that matter most.” – Joey Henderson, Commercial Director, Avocet

By comparing the organic conversion rate to your programmatic conversion rate, you can understand the uplift that the programmatic retargeting has on the conversion rate of different user groups, such as ‘recent visitors’, ‘basket abandoners’ and so on, and then structure your spend in a way that has the greatest impact.

Mistake 3 – Remarketing customers over and over again

So often we see brands remarketing customers with no caps in place, and the customer will see the same ad over and over again, resulting in creative fatigue.  Or advertisers may risk delivering multiple ad collisions.


The use of controlled frequency caps when running remarketing is integral to protecting your brand and your customers.  

There are different layers of frequency caps available, so you have the choice of using ‘per customer per day’, ‘per customer per week’, and ‘per customer per lifetime’ capping. This limits the amount of ads that customer will see over specific time periods. ‘Per lifetime’ is a great approach, as it means a customer who never engages with the brand will stop receiving ads once the limit is hit.  However, it is worth noting this is generally only effective with pixel data, and if a customer were to clear their cookies, this would reset.

A good starting point would be to use a cap of five ads per customer per day (remembering they are very unlikely to actually be served all five every day).  On top of this, then use a 30 per customer per lifetime campaign limit. Thirty may seem high, but bear in mind that the customer might not absorb all 30 of these ads, so we need to ensure we’re having a fair shot at reaching them.  We know this customer has previously engaged with the brand, so should have significant interest.

Mistake 4 – Serving generic, unpersonalised ads

Customers are becoming more and more aware of remarketing, and as a result, brands need to be smarter in their approach, in order to get the full value from remarketing activity.

Generic remarketing ads can often be easily overlooked by the end customer, who encounters many remarketing ads on a daily basis. Furthermore, nothing will affect your brand loyalty more than serving highly intrusive ads to your desired customer and interrupting their browsing experience as a result. Nobody appreciates redundant pop up ads, and the connotation with the advertiser who serves such ads is understandably very negative.


Dynamic ads help ensure that your customer is getting served the correct ad sizes. By using responsive ad layouts, you can avoid serving customers intrusive ads that annoy rather than attract.

Another great solution to this, is to serve customers ads tailored to their online engagement, using dynamic remarketing. This focuses on getting the most value out of your existing customers by including a product or services feed in your ad, or by adding custom tagging parameters to your website.

Mistake 5 – Serving repetitive, ineffective creative

Variety is the spice of life. This especially rings true when it comes to the importance of regularly changing up your creative offering.  Ad fatigue is simply when the consumer tires of seeing the same ad or ads, and this in turn can lead to a negative sentiment towards your brand.


It’s important to keep your creative fresh. For each campaign, depending on timeframe, ensure that you have at least three ad changes scheduled. This keeps things interesting for the consumer, achieves better ROI for the advertiser, and provides you with a lot of invaluable data to delve into once the campaign is underway.

It’s also imperative to provide interesting copy; offering value or reflecting the needs of your market correctly.  It’s important to routinely carry out A/B testing, in order to see which ads prove most effective in a test environment.

Here is a fun approach one brand has taken with its remarketing creative.  We talk more and more about ads being impactful, and this certainly grabs your attention:

To summarise

Remarketing ads nowadays need to be impactful, and remarketing strategies need to be executed as skillfully as possible. Subtle and smart advertising is the key to success.

By putting in place the best practice strategies listed above, you’ll be well on your way to getting the most out of your remarketing advertising activity.

Contact us if you’d like to find out more.

by Hannah Driffield
11 September 2018



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