In 2010, a radical new idea that revolutionised the way we interact with the internet took off. This came to be known in recent years as targeted advertising.
In essence, it is a sophisticated method of advertising where large marketing companies choose to target their most receptive audience based on the correlation between the consumer and the item. Practically, this means that if you’re buying the latest PlayStation game on a platform like Ebay, often a computer algorithm will suggest that ‘If you liked that Item, then you’ll love all 5 of its previous editions!’. Or perhaps you’re a keen photographer that has a history of buying Canon cameras. You might find that the next time you’re on Facebook, you might see a targeted ad listing one of those very latest cameras.
You might ask how exactly Facebook has this information? Well, when combined with the data-sharing practices that take place across different organisations, it’s incredibly easy for platforms to form a holistic picture of the consumer they’re selling to.
Though knowing and manipulating someone’s purchasing history may seem like a relatively trivial matter and it probably is, however, some organisations will now focus on manipulating the personal and political opinions of users by using sham surveys or even fake news stories that can have a devastating impact. For example, when Trump ran for the presidential election in 2016, he hired a company called Cambridge Analytica. They used controversial advertising on google and social media sites and even used fake news stories to steer public opinion toward Trump.
Another danger of targeted advertising is the effect it may have on vulnerable people when it comes to activities like gambling. Recently, it was found that some betting firms were eligible to be fined, and rightly so, for coaxing adults that might be in severe debt or have other financial worries to turn to gamble as a solution.
On the flip side, the benefits for a company and perhaps even a user’s perspective are obvious. No longer, do consumers have to sit through advertisements that are completely uninteresting for them and nor do companies have to spend millions of pounds on marketing in the hope of reaching just tens of people that might be interested in any particular item?
While that might be so, we should all be aware that this sort of advertising is creating a vicious cycle of consumerism, and potentially the sort that channels consumers down an endless lifestyle choice that might have resulted from a single random purchase made 5 years ago.