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Can You Retarget on the Mobile Device?

Rajesh Pantina
Rajesh Pantina
Head of Marketing, Asia Pacific
5 min read
Posted on August 09, 2017
Can You Retarget on the Mobile Device?

Updated June 28, 2019.

Absolutely! Retargeting is totally possible on mobile, but is probably more complex than retargeting users on desktop. For the uninitiated, retargeting is the ability to serve ads across the web or in apps based on past user behavior on a company’s online property such as desktop/mobile website or app.

Interested in setting up a mobile remarketing campaign using the world's first in-app programmatic buying platform that guarantees ROI and complete transparency? Reach out today to schedule a demo of InMobi DSP.


To better understand the complexity of retargeting on mobile, one should draw parallels between retargeting in the desktop and the mobile worlds. Let’s examine it using the below example:A user goes online with the intent of shopping and spends some time browsing through the latest collection of shirts, but leaves without making a purchase. This user action makes for a clear retargeting use case. So, how would retargeting work on both the desktop and mobile?

Retargeting on Desktop vs Mobile

Whenever a new user visits a website on the desktop, a cookie is dropped to track the user’s activity across the browser and to follow them across the web. The user in this case hence is continuously served ads about the latest collection of shirts based on their footprint - wherever they go. This means that advertisers can “retarget” users by merely embedding a javascript on their website.

Sequence of actions

Pretty simple, right! How different can it be on mobile? To answer that, let’s explore the kind of information one needs, to retarget.

Device/OS based: Tracking and Attribution IDs (IDFA for iOS, Google Advertising Identifier for Android)

Advertiser owned: in-app/web events, product ID, offer details, deep-links

Network facilitated: in-app/web ad inventory, budget optimizations

The biggest challenge in mobile remarketing is the ability to track users across apps and the mobile web, given the lack of cookies in the mobile ecosystem. To solve for this, mobile app store players - Google and Apple, have enabled their operating systems to allow ad networks to identify and track individual devices for the purposes of mobile advertising. Apple with its IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) and Google with its “Advertising ID” allows the ad network SDK sitting in an app on a device, send along this identifier with an ad request while requesting an ad. Of course, user privacy being paramount here, Google and Apple allow the user who owns the device, the option to “Limit Ad Tracking” or “Opt-out of interest-based ads”, which is meant to prevent ad networks from profiling the user.

Now, retargeting becomes possible on mobile as advertisers can integrate with ad networks to share the user-base in real-time for retargeting. Third-party tracking and attribution players help facilitate and bridge this requirement between advertisers and ad networks across Android and iOS. Additionally, third party trackers also relay in-app events such as gaming level-ups, shopping add-to-carts, travel package views to the ad networks which then can better optimize and contextually retarget users.

So, just to revisit the retail example we were referring to earlier, we find that mobile retargeting can happen in 2 ways - App-to-App and Web to App.

App to App Retargeting

With the availability of unique identifiers, app to app retargeting leads to highly accurate targeting and attribution.

Web to App Retargeting

In the web to app scenario, given the lack of SDK-based information, a combination of probabilistic/deterministic methods such as cross-device profiling and fingerprinting are used for tracking and attribution respectively. Cross-device tracking is an incredibly complex process that relies on huge amounts of data to identify user patterns across devices and attribute it to a user. Fingerprinting redirects a user through a measurement URL that collects publicly available HTTP headers about the device and creates a unique fingerprint. A 97% accurate method, device fingerprinting, is the most common method used in web to app retargeting attribution.

Remarketing vs Retargeting

While the terms retargeting and remarketing are often used interchangeably, ‘Remarketing’ is a an umbrella term that can be used to encompass broader aspects of marketing such as creative innovations, dynamic pricing whereas retargeting is more restrictive and refers largely to "targeting" capabilities.

To make remarketing cost-effective, bidding for the user on his/her propensity to convert as well as showing a personalized proposition via dynamic creatives becomes paramount. At InMobi, we recently launched our remarketing platform that solves for these challenges and has delivered some compelling results for our clients. The InMobi Remarketing Platform is an app-to-app remarketing platform that is designed and optimized for mobile. Built for mobile-first businesses, InMobi Remarketing is a comprehensive solution to fulfill performance marketing goals at each step of the user lifecycle post-acquisition that allows activating users by nudging them to (first) purchase, retargeting users to drive repeat purchases, and reactivating dormant users to engage and purchase.

Who is Mobile Remarketing for?

Mobile remarketing is an important lever in building customer loyalty and lifetime value for a wide range of performance marketers and app developers including, but not limited to - retail, gaming, on-demand services such as taxi, entertainment and travel verticals. Below are a few examples of how advertisers can leverage remarketing:

  • First Purchases or Incremental Sales - e.g. A retail app can target users who have recently installed their app with custom offers to drive the first purchase;
  • Subscriptions - e.g. Music apps can showcase a carousel of trending bestseller tracks, encouraging existing users to sign up for more subscriptions;
  • Incremental Rides - e.g. A cab hailing app can retarget existing users during peak office hours and promote ride discounts to maximize bookings;
  • Level-ups - e.g. Gaming apps can re-engage users stuck at a particular level by incentivizing them with level-up sweeteners to maximize retention.

Here is a short informative video to watch to learn more. You can check out our solution at https://www.inmobi.com/dsp and read more at http://www.inmobi.com/company/press/inmobi-launches-industrys-first-remarketing-platform-optimized-for-mobile/.


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