I Know What You Shopped For Last Summer

Advanced Advertising: How Brands Are Finding Their Audience

Happy Halloween Season! Julia Johnson here, Social Stylate’s Graphic Designer. This month we’re feeling a chill down our spine, and it’s not just because of the crisp weather! I’m here to spill the secrets on how products you’re secretly (or not so secretly) checking out online are haunting your browser.

We’ve all experienced it: you’re checking out a cute new sweater (it’s Fall, after all!). You close the tab and move on to Facebook and, like some kind of internet ghost, the sweater reappears! Nestled into a Facebook ad, or a 300×250-pixel banner on a new tab, its siren song beckons you to take another look. It’s only been a few minutes! How does Facebook know?! Wait, is it Facebook? A sleuthing ad agency? Big Sweater? Have you ever wondered what sorcery is going on behind the scenes?

Well, you’re crazy and it’s a complete coincidence. Maybe you need a hobby. Happy Halloween.

Just kidding, it’s advanced advertising.

John Wanamaker, marketing pioneer and merchant extraordinaire of the early 20th century, famously stated: “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” With the emergence of the Internet, it didn’t take long for advertisers to monetize the square inches of the screens we look at every day. The original model of online advertising, much like Wanamaker’s method, mimicked that of billboards and magazine ads: place your ad where your demographic is most likely to see it. By today’s digital standards, this strategy is not only outdated but downright sloppy.

The data available for companies to locate their demographics and their shopping habits grow with every click. That same data is leveraged with sophisticated ad serving technology. Large companies purchase datasets of demographics (age, gender, household income, homeowners, pet owners…) collected through the IP addresses of their various devices (computers, tablets, phones) for targeting. The result is audience targeting with homing laser-level precision. On top of that, they can drop a cookie on your browser when you visit their site and now you’ve got a sweater ghost on your hands.

It’s a little freaky to think that a corporate entity is spending (lots of) money to get your demographic data. Before you grab your tin foil hat, know that your identity is never more to these companies than a literal number. That is, the IP addresses you’re browsing on. There is a slew of popular tools designed to identify and block trackers. The advertisers out there certainly know that knowledge is power, and it is for you too! Hopefully this tale of the advanced ad serving world wasn’t too scary. Don’t forget to clear your cookies and browser cache once in while. Happy Halloween!

 

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