Retargeting Gone Wrong: 4 Tales of What Not to Do

By Melissa Duko, April 04, 2017

Retargeting is a great way to entice visitors who don’t convert right away, to finally take the plunge and purchase.

But the art of retargeting requires a delicate balance, not that different from courting. Act like an overzealous admirer, and you risk making them defensive, ultimately scaring them off. Offer the right amount of attention, and you’ll have them intrigued.

Unfortunately some brands haven’t learned quite yet how to woo their consumers the right way. Here are four short stories of retargeting gone awkwardly wrong.   

1. Hungry Howie’s: Targeting Vacationers (After the Vacation)

When vacationing in an unfamiliar area, retargeting can be extremely helpful. It can help you narrow down restaurants, stores, hotels, taxis, etc. But once you head home, the retargeting needs to end. Yet, many companies forget to stop targeting their transient consumers.

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While on vacation in South Carolina, I ordered a pizza from Hungry Howie’s. (Great name, huh?) But Hungry Howie’s can’t seem to let go. Two years later, I’m still retargeted on Facebook and via email. Sure “pizza is bae,” but it’s not like I want to end up in a long-distance relationship meme.  


Source: Sizzle

Nevertheless Hungry Howie’s is undeterred. In February, “H-squared” was feeling the love and retargeted me with this holiday special.

Retargeting Example.png

I will give props for it being a timely notification. (I received this the day before Valentine’s Day.) But there was little chance of me hopping on a plane to Surfside Beach, South Carolina and grabbing a heart-shaped pizza on Valentine’s Day. Geotargeting fail.

2. Brilliant Earth: Targeting Those Who Can’t Afford Some Bling

From time to time, it isn’t unusual to be lured into clicking on something sparkly, especially if it’s from Brilliant Earth. But what started off as an innocent click, quickly morphed into one of the more outrageous retargeting campaigns seen thus far.

Brilliant Earth Example LinkedIn.png

Source: Brilliant Earth

A basic engagement ring on Brilliant Earth, falls between $1,500 to $2,000. That’s about average market price (e.g. setting $1,000 + diamond $500).

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Over the course of several weeks, Brilliant Earth’s Facebook retargeting ads climbed all the way up to $119,500! Now if we haven’t taken the bait thus far to purchase, why would increasing the price to SIX FIGURES entice us more?

It wouldn’t.

120k Yellow Diamond Ad 2.png

Source: Brilliant Earth

We can learn a valuable lesson from Brilliant Earth. Before retargeting, make sure your demographic also falls within your target economic bracket. And if they don’t click by a certain price point, lay off retargeting with more expensive price points.  

3. Brilliant Earth (Repeat Offender): Targeting Individuals With Sold Out Items

Sorry Brilliant Earth, you also made another critical mistake when you delivered an ad for an already sold out ring.


Source: Brilliant Earth

Why waste your time trying to sell us a ring that isn’t available? Sure, there’s a disclaimer about creating a custom reproduction of the sold out ring, but that probably costs a lot of money. And ain’t nobody got time (or the cash flow) for that.

4. WordPress: Not Knowing When to Call It Quits 

If a conversion hasn’t happened after a number of impressions, it’s likely not going to happen. Don’t be like that person who tried out on American Idol year after year only to be rejected every single time. Know when to call it a day and cap out.

The same applies for people who have already converted, too. For example, I use WordPress, yet I’m still being retargeted with this sponsored ad below.

WordPress ad example.png

Each time I log into my news feed, I see the same exact ad. It’s a woman leaning in the doorway who’s probably thinking, “Yeah, I’m a Lisa Loeb lookalike hipster who uses WordPress. It’s awesome.”

The problem with this ad is I’m currently a WordPress user. I have no need to see their ads. So, hey, WordPress, I know you only hear what you want to, but please move on.

Related Post: How Marketers Use Behavioral Advertising to Stalk You

The moral of these four stories is retargeting when done right can be effective. But cross the line, and you go from gentle reminder to creepy stalker in a flash. And no one likes a creeper.

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Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko is the Senior Editor and Digital Specialist for eZanga and its ad fraud management platform, Anura. She brings to her role more than a decade of journalism and editing experience. A graduate of the University of Delaware, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, concentration business and technical writing, minor Art History. She also has a Master of Science in professional writing for the public and private sector from Towson University. She isn’t afraid to admit that her love for Starbucks is at gold member status. (Since 2011!) More Articles by Melissa Duko