Most marketers are sitting on a gold mine of big data that goes unused.

In January, I kicked off a series outlining how to construct agnostic marketing strategies around dormant data, specifically about personalizing the onsite experience based on purchase patterns.  

This installment evaluates two brands I’m very fond of, Hugo Boss and Virgin Atlantic, and outlines opportunities their retargeting programs are not capitalizing on.

If you have ever shopped at the Hugo Boss store in Soho or the Men’s department at Bloomingdales, I’m positive one of their attentive personal shoppers helped recommend attire based on what you were in the market for (ie formal/casual wear, budget, taste, etc). 

But remember, the purpose of their accommodating service is sales: to identify your need, match you with a suitable product and then guide you to checkout. Their deductive reasoning and approch is effective to ensuring your business.

A similar tactic should be mimicked within a retargeting campaign to close the sale before the shopper buys elsewhere.

While on over the weekend, I added a few shirts to the cart. I was distracted (probably by Huffpo) and I bounced off-site. Within a few moments, I was retargeted with the Hugo Boss display ad below promoting a 50% off sale.

The chance at a sale caught my eye. I give kudos to their acquisition manager for that design decision. However, I clicked the ad and to my disappointment I did not see ANY sale products or heavy sales messaging. 

Instead, I landed on the Spring 2013 Men’s page. This is the page for their new product arrivals (aka non-sale &top priced products). Yeah, it was a bit of a disconnect.

The disconnect is:

  1. The sale messaging of the ad was generic and impressionable.
  2. The retailer knew my category of interest was shirts, why not capitalize on the intent data?

How retail retargeting can be made more effective

Step 1. Reflect the product category of interest

If the shopper has spent time in the shirt section, or added shirts to cart, then the re-marketed ad should display: shirt messaging. End generic ads, drive sales through relevant recommendations.

Step 2. Let the shopper shop from within the ad.

We have found that elegant carousel ads that rotate six or more products of interest are more effective than static ads. For our retail advertisers, by incorporating product feeds we are able to populate the ads with accurate product recommendations. 

This enables shoppers to browse similar products then click-to-site to complete a purchase. I encourage you to experiment with different logic to govern which products should populate ads. 


  1. Customers like you also purchased products like these.
  2. Top selling products within the category of interest.
  3. Sale items within the category of interest.

Step 3.  Authentic Continuity

To decrease bounce rates, the shoppers’ expectations should be met.  If an ad is promoting sale messaging, the destination landing page should mirror the expectation by listing sale items.

If an ad is promoting suits, the destination landing page should be the suit section.  Disrupting the shopper experience leads to bounce.

Relevancy. This sounds a bit obvious right? I’m seeing the same trend in the travel industry this week.

When it comes to travel planning, and Virgin Atlantic are my go-to brands of choice. In March, my buddy is getting married in India and I’m scrambling for a ticket. 

I’ve been researching prices for flights on Kayak from JFK to New Delhi.  Ever since, I’ve been stalked with display ads promoting flights from JFK to LAX.  Errr…what!?

Last October, we deployed a search retargeting campaign for a hotel chain on We were able to scrape the traveler’s intent from the search string and inject the city of interest into the display ad while the visitor continued to browse Kayak and afterwards on subsequent sites. 

Not only were we able to reflect the destination city of interest but we also populated the ad with relevant images and accurate price per night messaging. 

With travel, I’ve found more so than retail, timing is everything. When planning a trip, the window of consideration is so small; as we all know plane tickets go up in price, not down, as the departure date approaches.  

Travelers book based on where they tend to rack up air miles, past experiences, a peer’s recommendation, and price of course.  Travel brands don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to capturing the reservation. 

Effective elements of travel retargeted ads

  • A slight discount, provide a promo code.
  • Bundle an iTunes credit via

Neither of the above has to be costly to the airline but they could be the tipping point that converts the traveler before they book elsewhere. 

Jacob Ajwani

Published 31 January, 2013 by Jacob Ajwani

Jacob Ajwani is a serial startup executive, scaling adoption & utilization of Offermatica, Omniture, Adobe and Cognitive Match.  You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Google+.

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Comments (6)

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Rob Turner

Utilising the data as best as possible is something that all businesses should be doing considering the value that data can have for segmenting and targeting. Better use of data as well as more sophisticated technology means will more than likely lead to success.

over 5 years ago

Jacob Ajwani

Jacob Ajwani, VP of Strategy at

Right on Rob.
If budget is already being spent on media, might as well personalize the message as much as possible to close the sale.

Thanks for the feedback Rob.

over 5 years ago


Jahan Zahid

Nice article Jacob.

It would be interesting if the concept of quality score (from Adwords for search) could be extended to display advertising, so advertisers are rewarded (with lower CPC's) for relevancy?

Being able to personalize ads is something we are also placing a big focus on. I believe the biggest challenges in this area are having systems in place which can carefully segment audiences and allocate the most relevant ads depending on user journey.

over 5 years ago

Jacob Ajwani

Jacob Ajwani, VP of Strategy at

Jahan, I think you may have stumbled onto a new business model for the display world. RTB systems should bake in a relevancy factor based on semantic data.

You bring up "segment audiences + allocate the most relevant ads"

Its a bit self-serving of me to share the pitch, but here it is.

Cognitive Match amplifies performance of display to meet this very need. Driven by machine learning, an audience model is developed. Insights are learned. And the best performing ad is matched for each segment.

I'll stop there.
That is the short pitch for CM's prospecting bolt-on tech.

over 5 years ago



Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America are two different airlines / corporations. America primarily flies domestic US routes. Atlantic flies global routes based in the UK, including flights out of the US. I would guess you were on America's booking engine which is what triggered the America banners you referenced.

over 5 years ago

Jacob Ajwani

Jacob Ajwani, VP of Strategy at

A fair theory, but as an international traveler (and Virgin Atlantic White Card member), I was on the Atlantic site. That is what made the sight of domestic retargeted ads surprising.

about 5 years ago

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