Illustration by Konani Chinn

Advertising, a very old business model, has become even more powerful in the digital era due to precise targeting (at the expense of your privacy).

Story: Puppies For Sale

Ever seen a ‘Puppies For Sale” sign in a window? That’s advertising at it’s most powerful: a message which pulls your emotional heartstrings and makes you want to pull over and buy the product.

Without even seeing the actual puppies, your mind’s already racing down the path. I bet they’re super cute. We could really use a puppy. It would be really soft and playful, and so much fun!

For decades, advertising was that simple. Newspaper, magazine, radio and TV ads were designed to get you excited about a product or brand. They combined emotional appeals with factual statements (‘Puppies are great for your health’). It was all about the story.

But now advertising’s gone totally high-tech, gotten much more powerful, and is dominated by the small handful of highly profitable platforms that control huge global audiences (Google, Facebook/Instagram, Amazon, Twitter etc).

Here’s some key concepts to understand about digital (or any) advertising:

Brand advertising: Ads designed to get you excited about a brand, rather than buy a specific product immediately. Usually video ads.

Lead generation advertising: Ads aimed at finding out if you’re in the market to buy something. Example: “Are you a cat or dog person? Fill out this survey…”

Direct response advertising: Designed to get you to buy something right now. You’re sent to a ‘landing page’ to ‘convert’ you into a paying customer. Example: “50% off puppy supplies if you buy in the next hour!”

Contextual targeting: Ads placed within relevant related content. Example: an ad for puppies in an article on dogs.

Demographic and psychographic targeting: Ads targeted based on your age or other characteristics. Example: you get an ad for puppies because they know (often from credit card info) you’re a young couple with kids, living in a neighborhood where dogs are popular.

Behavioral targeting: Ads targeted based on where you’ve been going and what you’ve been doing online. Example: You’ve spent hours watching puppy videos on YouTube and downloading dog breed apps… so they know you may want a puppy!

Advertisers and their software algorithms now know just about everything about you, and can make a pretty good guess when you might be ready to buy something (like a puppy) and even what kind you want (maybe even before you yourself know).

Obviously it’s not great for your privacy for these giant advertising platforms (and their business partners) to have so much information about you.

If you’re freaked out about that…. maybe time to get a puppy?