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The History and Future of Remarketing


Remarketing is a continually growing market, and the consequent privacy concerns have provoked mixed reactions from companies and customers. Here, we’ve noted key moments in the evolution of remarketing, its reception, and a quick look at what might come next.

1996: Beans Spilled on Cookies

Invented in 1994 by Louis J. Montulli II, an engineer at Netscape, the “cookie” (a piece of data that stores on a user’s browser when they visit a site) was “exposed” by The Financial Times in 1996. This was soon followed by Lee Gomes’ forbidding: “Web ‘Cookies’ May Be Spying on You” in the San Jose Mercury News. Gomes claimed cookies seemed to “violate” users’ assumptions that browsing was completely anonymous, and that their hard drives couldn’t be “tampered with”. Public uproar regarding privacy ensued, with cookies being discussed in 1996 and 1997 in Federal Trade Commission hearings.

1998: DoubleClick Release a Boomerang

Boomerang, launched by DoubleClick, is broadly recognised as the first instance of “re-targeting”. It allowed providers to track users who had previously visited their sites, and supply them with advertisements across their network. This was typically in the form of banner ads, which was their primary service. DoubleClick came under scrutiny after merging with Abacus Direct (a data-collection agency) among fears that they would match anonymous users to their personal information.

2012: Going…Going…Gone.

By December 2011 Facebook had 845 million users. Providers were eager to jump in and retarget their customers’ timelines. Cue Facebook Exchange (FBX) – a desktop service providing real-time bids for retargeting users. It was widely predicted to be the future of remarketing, until advertisers realised no data on user activity was actually being supplied by Facebook for campaign building. Facebook also couldn’t decide on whether to use an open system for advertisers to compare data across other ad servers, or a closed system that would cut Facebook’s need to pay for separate ad-serving software. In 2013, they chose the latter. Following a shift to mobile Facebook usage, and the launch of their own Product Ads, FBX shut down last November.

2015: RLSA for your GA

The concisely-titled “Remarketing Lists for Search Ads for Google Analytics” works by matching keywords from pages browsed and Google searches. If a user were to be cookied on the “Menswear” section of a clothing merchandiser’s website, they would be added to a relevant retargeting list. If the user left the site without converting, but later made a search for “men’s shirts”, the site provider could then be notified to bid on retargeting that user. A lot like FBX, but with much easier access to user data, and an ability to analyse results cross platform. RLSA remains a popular option for providers using Analytics.

2017 Onwards: Artificially Intelligent Ad Agencies

70% of marketing leaders claim to be using or preparing for a future with AI. 85% believe it could cause a potential 45% reduction in their number of jobs. Some are wary of AI, but others see it as a tool for more accurately predicting what steps a user takes on a website, and gathering masses of their data to create far more personalised remarketing campaigns. Data collection can improve AI in return. iCloud Analytics promises to improve Siri’s accuracy with more sophisticated listening software, which has provoked fears that virtual assistants are recording our every word in order to target us with ads.
With unfathomable amounts of data produced every day, companies are able to remarket to their customers with an increasing precision and relevancy. At GML, we specialise in data-driven marketing solutions, including SEO, PPC and email marketing. We can create a campaign that uses the data of your users, tailoring to their expectations and ultimately driving conversions. Click here to find out more!