Creating Effective Retargeting Ad Campaigns with Emotion

On Monday, David Brooks published an op-ed in the Times expounding on both his hopefulness and his concerns regarding the increasing hype and perceived usefulness of Big Data. In my opinion, Brooks' most telling and useful line was this:

"...big data is really good at telling you what to pay attention to..but then to actually intervene.. you have to get back into the world of causality, back into the world of responsibility, back in the world of advising someone to do x because it will cause y."

big data

While falling short of utilizing what could be explicitly referred to as 'big data', there is at the very least, a large and fleeting variety of data in the form of temporary cookies that are becoming ever more important to the efforts of SEM and display advertising. I am, of course, referring to ad retargeting. This quote by Brooks was particularly striking when you consider how data influences a range of ads from dynamically retargeted Zappos display ads to cinematic masterpieces developed for Nike.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of viewing a creative and emotionally charged ad spot developed by Ogilvy for Dove. A quick examination of the tone, direction, pace and narrative reveals a striking similarity to a range of charitable infomercials floating around the interwebs — even the piano looping in the background is warm enough to support serious emotion while remaining anonymous to the point of having been selected by a focus group (and perhaps it was).

Given the advertising budget of Dove's parent company, Unilever, it's safe to assume that the ensuing similarities were largely motivated by data to produce a tailored aesthetic with an eye on a specific demographic. What's unsettling and fascinating at the same time is that, despite the clear use of a distilled formula, this ad works — it rings true regardless of the obvious calculation behind something meant to feel organic.

The Dove ad is a case-study on traditional agencies' talent for emotional branding and highlights the potential for digital agencies to improve in this realm. However, while traditional ad spots are driven by emotion, they only loosely rely on any direction from data. On the other hand, digital has the benefit of being largely data-driven, while remaining loosely influenced by emotional factors — if at all. The takeaway is that neither approach is optimal. This is exactly where retargeting can shine — imagine ads that are both emotionally engaging and useful.

When it comes to retargeting campaigns, both impression frequency and timing are important metrics to keep an eye on. True, you may convince a handful of customers to convert by lurking at every stop on their browsing trail, but you're also likely to annoy many others. While Zappos and Warby Parker are great at bombarding us with ads based on prior activity, all they really do is echo content that was viewed previously. Instead, why not try introducing fresh elements into the ad to further entice?


Consider the shopper who adds a pair of Nike running shoes to their shopping cart, only to abandon the purchase entirely. Wouldn't this be the perfect opportunity to show an emotionally charged video showcasing the benefits of Nike running shoes with Nike+ embedded into each pair? The optimal retargeting ad arises when users are targeted based on both intent, timing, and big-data analysis with creative and emotional content.

perfect timing

Traditional ads are derided for lacking a clear effect on raw sales while digital is panned for being cold and obnoxious. The future lies in the creation of emotional, yet timely content with an eye on both brand development and ultimately improved sales. To some extent Social has bridged this gap, but it has also assumed criticisms from both traditional and digital camps i.e. too intrusive and lacking clear ROI. For now, the aim should be a strategic combination of compulsive data-driven retargeting and Oscar worthy prime-time ad spots.

Have you found a retargeting ad that actually yields an emotional response in addition to being useful and intent-based? Let us know in the comments below or tweet @BFMweb.

14 Tips to Successful Paid Search Advertising Whitepaper

Share this post

Comments on this post

  1. I love that Dove ad. I usually forget about ads, but not that one. Emotion is an essential element to advertising now, and is unfortunately overlooked or paid little attention to by some people. This blog post obviously made a point, and I also recommend checking out this post about three marketing methods – social proof, scarcity, fear – that appeal to certain emotions:

Comment on this post


Ready to discuss your project? Work With Us
Blue Fountain Media is recognized as a
Top Digital Agency by
Ranked #1 Interactive
Agency by top interactive agencies example
Ranked Top 10 Digital
Agency by awwwards logo
Ranked Top 10 Agency
Worldwide by IMA logo
Our Locations
New York Headquarters
New York Headquarters
102 Madison Avenue - Second Floor
New York, NY 10016
Chicago Office
Chicago Office
222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 1212
Chicago, IL 60654
Seattle Office
Seattle Office
14980 NE 31st Way, Suite 120
Redmond, WA 98052
  • 102 Madison Ave, 2nd Floor
  • New York, NY 10016
  • 212.260.1978