How do advertisers know your individual tastes, interests and desires?

Advertising in the 21st century is a completely new ball-game. In the past, adverts were targeted at mass audiences. Say an advertiser wanted to appeal to teenagers, then they would advertise in the magazines that teenagers would purchase and place their TV adverts during programmes that teenagers would most likely watch. Although these adverts were targeted, they were still appealing to a mass of teenagers. The advertisers’ ability to target individual needs rather than group needs was very limited. This has completely changed in the age of the internet!

Today advertising has become much more personal, which makes it so very difficult to avoid. Every time you search for something on the internet or look at something on your cell phone, an organisation such as Facebook and Google is taking note of what you are interested in. In this way, they can ‘pop’ adverts up on your screen that are targeted at you as an individual and your individual interests.  Google alone has more than 2 million sites on which advertisers can publish adverts.

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and many other sites share the data that they collect from people using their sites with advertisers. This allows advertisers to home in on users who are most likely to purchase their products. They find the right person at the right time and show them adverts about things they care about. This individual is much more likely to purchase this product than one that targets a large group of people.

So how do personal or targeted adverts work? Perhaps you’re watching a soccer match on the internet and, bam, there’s an advert for a soccer item on your phone. It’s like they are spying on you! Well, in a way, they are. They use clickstream data, search data, purchase data, and profile data to create a picture of your interests, attitudes, and hobbies so they can build adverts that target your specific wants. Perhaps, after the soccer match, you look up the weather or your phone and, bam, another soccer ad pops onto your screen.

Clickstream data is one of the biggest ways that the internet collects information about you. Every time you look at a web page, a record of this is stored in a tiny text file called a cookie. Websites communicate with your computer through these cookies and so they can track all your movements on the web pages. If you look at lots of clothing websites, you’ll begin to see more targeted items of clothing that suits your profile and searches. Because of recent privacy scares, many websites ask you to agree to them collecting cookies from you. If you disagree, you are no longer able to look at that website.

So now you have all this information at your finger-tips, you can see how the advertising industry is able to sometimes ‘trick’ you into buying things you think you desperately need but you probably don’t. In order to live, we really have to have food, water and most probably shelter and some basic clothes. That is all we actually HAVE to have to survive. The rest is our desire for things and advertisers have found a way to manipulate us into buying loads of things.

It’s not all bad though. If you are actually wanting to buy something, have a very clear idea in your head about what it is and why you need it. ‘’I’m cold, I need a heater.’’ Have a clear idea about how much money you can afford to spend on a heater and then look at adverts about different types of heaters to find out what is available. After this you can make an informed choice about which heater to purchase. But watch out for those adverts – heater adverts will probably be flying at you!