Targeted Ads Are Real And There’s No Escaping Them

By Elizabeth Simpson
The Virginian-Pilot.

Do you ever feel like there’s a disconnect between your cyber self and the real you?

I’ve had that sensation recently, after letting my hair go its natural shade, which — who knew — turns out to be white. I was going for a salt-and-pepper look, but you don’t get to choose.

Sooner or later, I had to align my social media profile with the real me.

I’m not particularly adept at social media. Apparently, being social helps. I found out the hard way you can’t change your profile photo on Facebook without it appearing prominently in people’s news feeds.

No sneaking the photo in with a quick, “Nothing to see here, folks, move along. I’m just as young as ever, really!”
I had to admit, yes, I’ve been living a lie.

Thankfully, my “friends” are mostly real, live friends, so everyone was gracious.

The machine behind Facebook … not so much.

Suddenly Olay anti-aging ads were popping up.

Wait a minute, what’s this ad for “Making under-eye bags disappear in less than two minutes!”

Now my back was up, as I mourned the loss of my L’Oreal-6A-light-ash-brown self.

Hmm. Am I imagining this, or is something nefarious up?

Turns out a bit of both, with the world of targeted ads playing on my psyche.

We’re constantly being tracked through social media and our Internet browsing habits for such innocuous details as age, marital status, where we live, recent life events, education level and dog ownership, so companies can pitch their wares to us.
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If you “like” certain things on Facebook — or follow, say, “dachshundlove” on Twitter — watch out. You could soon be watching hours of short-legged, floppy-eared dog videos. (They are kind of cute.)

And even if you don’t “like” things and only share bare scraps about yourself, an amazing algorithm god uses your friends’ data to place you in a logical demographic.

There are also companies out there that mine your shopping habits, using email and phone numbers you give out without a second thought.

While reading a story on a news website recently, I noticed a “Dye your hair at home!” ad in the corner of the screen.
No, really, Internet, I decided I was done with that.

There was no escaping my 56-year-old self in the car. Listening to Pandora radio, I suddenly realized all the ads were about menopause and weight loss (Wrong!) and window blinds.

How my selection of folk music, indie rock, bluegrass, Cajun and blues on this Internet radio site led me to this, I do not know.

Was I wrong to “thumbs up” Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide”?

It was like looking in the mirror and not liking what I see, but admitting, OK, it is what it is.

I knew I had to get a grip when I started trying to game the system.

“I’m not going to stop clicking on exercise stories until a Nike tennis shoe ad replaces that ad for those ridiculously expensive sandals I want.”

I realize, too, that the cyber bean counters sometimes are a little off. After I looked up Angelina Jolie’s essays on the BRCA gene for a story on local women who had their breasts and ovaries removed to prevent hereditary cancer, I started getting “Must reads for Elizabeth!” digests with stories about Jolie and Brad Pitt’s marital woes, latest movies and family outings.

I figured out why I was getting them, but not before I was hooked into keeping up with the celebrity couple’s brood.
How are Zahara and Shiloh doing anyway? Click! And there go five minutes of my life.


I mentioned this phenomenon to my 20-something daughter, who said the same thing was happening to her.

What a relief!

Only she was getting ads saying she could make money by selling eggs. Not out of her refrigerator or a backyard chicken coop, but out of her uterus.

One of her friends said, “Boy, someone really wants your eggs.”

Guess what? No one wants my eggs.

OK, I don’t produce them anymore.

Still, nothing says your misspent youth is over like the ugly silence of fertility ads.

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