Retargeting Ad Fatigue

Today, we’ll be looking at a favorite punching bag for those creeped out by hyper-targeted digital marketing: retargeting.

Most of us have had the unsettling feeling of noticing an ad following us around the internet shortly after mentioning the product within earshot of Alexa. (And yes, Alexa is listening to you even when you’re not talking to her.)

Creepy or not, there’s a strong likelihood that this ad will influence us toward a purchase. The reason retargeting ads have been so prevalent for years is that they tend to work. According to statistics shared on SocialMediaToday, retargeting ads can increase engagement by 400% and conversions by 147%.

Precise targeting and ample frequency are two of the most impactful ways to ensure the effectiveness of an ad campaign (along with great creative). Retargeting delivers on both.

Now, perhaps you see the potential benefit to retargeting, but you’re worried about damaging your brand and turning off potential customers who don’t like feeling stalked. How do you know how much is too much, and how do you make sure your audience isn’t suffering from ad fatigue?

Let’s walk through these considerations and look at some tools and best practices to help navigate these common concerns. But first…

Is This Even Something to Worry About?

In the marketing industry, there are plenty who think it’s silly to fret about retargeting ad fatigue at all. Here’s what WordStream Founder Larry Kim has to say:

“Hey you guys! All these articles about the dangers of creepy remarketing make me want to barf. I think advertisers who are scared of remarketing are either using remarketing all wrong, or have a poor understanding of the awesome power of remarketing.”

Tell us what you really think Larry.

The fact is, it’s not an uncommon point of view. Proponents will be quick to point out that not only are retargeting and remarketing ads more effective, there’s less risk of fatigue when compared to traditional display ads.

Retargeting Fatigue 1-1

Image credit: WordStream

A more nuanced but perhaps less satisfying point of view is that this partly depends on your audience.

For example, I’m personally not annoyed or offended by retargeting ads unless the creative is really bad or I’ve been seeing the same ad for several months – but I work in marketing. If your target audience is, say, IT engineers, they may have a lower tolerance for ads (although, if they do, they’ve probably already implemented ad blockers).

If you’re concerned that your audience in particular may be at a higher risk of fatigue, consider doing some market research first. Interview some current customers, put out a survey and look for existing research to get a better understanding of current attitudes.

If the research comes up short of any conclusive takeaways, there’s still a way to figure this out – and that’s by taking the leap of faith and testing it out.

Building a Campaign That’s Resistant to Fatigue

Before we look at tactics for reducing ad fatigue, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that if you’re marketing your business at all, there is no way to entirely eliminate the chance that someone somewhere will dislike your marketing. The broader your reach, the more potential people who will be turned off. Trolls gonna troll. And don’t forget, most people hate ads (specifically, bad advertising).

With that context in mind, let’s look at how you can maximize results while minimizing negative impressions.

  • Invest in good creative. It should go without saying, but unfortunately this is where things tend to go wrong. Advertisers have flooded every corner of the internet with ads that are largely boring, silly, confusing, obnoxious, tone-deaf, misleading – or some combination of these things. Poor ads perform poorly. The importance of investing the time and resources into developing strong creative can’t be overstated.
  • Refresh and rotate ads regularly. While the number of ads you should have in rotation depends on the platform, having between two and four ads, per campaign or per ad group, is a good place to be for a social platform. For Google Display, there are 10 common display ad sizes for desktop and mobile. If you don’t have the creative team to easily generate new ad creative every couple weeks or monthly, consider using responsive ads, or a tool like Bannersnack can work in a pinch.
  • Take advantage of AI optimization tools. There are a growing number of AI tools that can be used to optimize your retargeting ad campaign to avoid ad fatigue, including some built-in Google capabilities. At Simple Machines, we use a tool called Optmyzer that provides AI-generated recommendations.
  • Consider frequency capping. Most retargeting platforms provide simple methods for frequency capping, which lets you limit the number of times a user will see your ads. We’ll come back to how much frequency is too much in the next section.
  • Adjust audience membership durations. If you have a good idea of how long the awareness and consideration stages are for your audience on average, you can have your retargeting audience membership duration align with the stage lengths.
  • Exclude customers. If you’re not excluding existing customers from your retargeting list, you’re negatively impacting performance. For example, I’m a paying subscriber of the coffee subscription service, but I still get Gmail ads from them. I’m going to impact that campaign’s data as I’ll never intentionally click on the ad since I’m already a customer.

How to Spot Retargeting Ad Fatigue

If you’re still worried about retargeting causing fatigue, the good news is that you can spot the symptoms if you’re monitoring your campaign carefully.

Typically, when you launch a retargeting campaign there’s an initial period in which you’re establishing awareness with your audience and, during this time, you should see performance gradually improve. Click-through rates should increase and cost-per-click/cost-per-impression should come down.

Retargeting Fatigue 2

Image credit: WordStream

Once the data indicates there is a negative trend in your key metric, whether it’s return on acquisition, conversion rate, click-through rate or cost per impression, it’s a good idea to revisit your targeting, ads or frequency to determine if dialing it back or swapping your creative to refresh the campaign makes sense. However, if click-through rate is low but you’re acquiring leads at a suitable cost per acquisition and rate, fatigue probably shouldn’t be a top concern. If nothing else, the campaign will function as good branding (assuming your ads look good).

So, how much frequency is too much? I put the question to our Digital Channels Manager, Ben Bullock.

There isn’t going to be a single answer for all scenarios. For straight up display targeting, frequency is definitely a metric you need to monitor closely all the time. For retargeting, it depends on the targeting.

Perhaps you have a couple retargeting audiences you are using. One for users higher in the funnel, one for users lower in the funnel. I think there’s good justification to just hit the higher funnel folks with no capping. If they’ve been to your site but haven’t given contact info, then I’d want to stay top of mind for the length of the audience membership duration. With ad capping enabled, what are the odds that you’ll serve an ad at the right time in the day when a person has time to come back to your site and engage?  

Conversely, if someone who has seen a demo but hasn’t inquired about a quote or someone who’s downloaded a piece of content or otherwise is being nurtured, I think there’s reason to back off some in this scenario. Whether that’s a couple dozen ad impressions a week or more or less, that’s something that should be tested over time.

Final Thoughts

If retargeting conceptually fits with your broader marketing strategy and you have the budget available, it’s worth a test. This is a proven, cost-efficient tactic, and the best practices above will help ensure you’re not alienating a significant portion of your target audience as you gather data and optimize your campaign.

Need a hand making sure all of those best practices are being followed? We’d be happy to help.