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September 17, 2013

What is Remarketing?

Author: Valerie Baker

I’ve been planning a trip to San Francisco for a few months and have kept a watchful eye on plane ticket options (ridden with anxiety, I might add – to say I find flying a discomfort is an understatement). Needless to say, it took some time for me to make the decision to fly cross-country.

During this months-long process, I began to notice ads for San Francisco flights, hotels, and rental cars on what seemed like every website I visited (even Facebook). To some, this may seem like a pure coincidence. But, what seems like a coincidence to most is actually a genius marketing tactic: remarketing.

So, what is remarketing?

To answer the question simply, remarketing (or retargeting) is a method that allows you to show ads to users that have visited your website. During setup, picking who to remarket to can be as general as someone who has visited your website to someone who has viewed a specific product on a specific page and, for whatever reason, abandoned purchase (my reason: not wanting to take the leap and conquer my irrational flying fear).

Why Use Remarketing?

2 key reasons why many companies use remarketing:

  1. It’s relevant to the user (Google is adamant about providing useful, relevant content in its ads – definitely not a bad thing).
  2. It engages customers with a strong potential to buy.

If I’m going to be advertised to, I want it to be a product or service that is relevant to me and is something I’d actually purchase. My flight to San Francisco falls into both of those categories and upon seeing these ads, it felt like a nudge for me to come closer to buying my ticket (and was the reason I finally chose the airline I chose).

This is exactly why remarketing works and companies use it. 

How Does Remarketing Work?

The “what” and “why” parts are covered – now, onto the “how” portion.

Here’s how remarketing works (in a nutshell):

  1. User visits a page on a website (it is up to the remarketer to decide what that key page is).
  2. Remarketer then places a cookie on the user’s computer to track activity for a specific timeframe (again, up to the remarkter – could range anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days or even longer).
  3. When that user visits other Google Network websites (YouTube, Gmail, any other website affiliated with Google AdSense, Facebook, etc.), ads will appear relating to that key page the cookies were set to track.

A perfect example of this is my search for flights to San Francisco and subsequent ads.

#1: My Gmail


#2: My Facebook (note: the image is one of an actual hotel I viewed)


Another perfect example of this is my recent search on for a new office bookshelf. Upon my useless YouTube viewing time, I was shown an ad for the EXACT bookcase viewed, along with a price and a link to add to my cart.


Remarketing: An Invasion of User Privacy?

The general consensus is this: the “evil” marketers and advertisers are the ones behind the curtain brainwashing consumers into buying things they don’t want or need. With remarketing ads showcasing not only related products/services, but ACTUAL products/services viewed, there will likely be even more questions regarding the validity of remarketing and its privacy implications for users (for the record: you ARE able to disable cookies on your computer to prevent this kind of tracking).

However, is it really such a bad thing that companies (like Google) are working hard to ensure that you’re seeing a customized ad relating to something you’re ALREADY looking for?

Let’s refer back to my never-ending search for plane tickets to San Francisco. After spending some time searching and then giving up, I was shown an ad for United Airlines on my Facebook. This particular ad caught my attention for 3 reasons: it knew I was flying out of Southwest Florida International Airport, that I was flying to San Francisco International Airport, and that low fares are important to me.


If I’m already searching for something and a company is presenting me with a reminder in the form of an ad, it just might be what leads me to purchase (and a huge return for United Airlines).

Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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