Most targeted ads are annoying

The way targeted ads work, is that they collect information on stuff you are interested in — they define your interest by what you search, and what you are doing and letting companies target adverts to people that are interested in things relevant to their product or service.

But sometimes, targeted ads can feel a little too targeted. When someone has experienced a trauma or is struggling with something — and is perhaps searching for answers online — these ads can become an unwelcome reminder. The best many can hope for is that these ads are unnoticeable or mildly annoying. For others, though, they can cause real harm to mental health.

Just Mad
Just Mad — a stock image downloaded from Unsplash

Facebook has some rules that may stem some of the damage that could come from certain targeted ads. For example, Facebook’s policy is that ads can’t target people based on their medical history, or make implications about a person’s medical condition. They also can’t include unlikely before-and-after images or other content that tries to generate negative self-worth to promote diet or health-related products. Unfortunately, these and other companies’ policies don’t prevent harm entirely.

My friend’s wife & I did some googling for baby stuff, like baby clothes, toys etc, when she was pregnant. Then she started seeing pregnancy-related ads even after her child was stillborn. But these ads only reflected what life was like before her child died because of what she had searched and interacted with online for months as she prepared for a baby. For her, there are ads, ads, ads everywhere, but not one to click.

This isn’t cool. To my friend’s wife, seeing these ads remind her of something she can’t have and, it can be painful. She can’t go to the store to purchase a baby. She can’t buy relief from grief on Jumia or Amazon.

You might be thinking “just use an ad blocker and the ads from everywhere will be gone for good.” Yeah, best option. Not just everyone know this. Or will even share the pain they get from seeing ads that remind them of trauma. But they don’t care they just want you to see the ad.

If the algorithms are smart enough to realize that someone was pregnant, or that she has given birth, then surely they can be smart enough to realize that their baby died, and advertise to them accordingly — or maybe, just maybe, not at all. And even if someone stopped searching about a particular stuff, it’s only right to stop showing them when they stop looking.

Targeted ads can echo and reinforce what you worry about and search for at 3 am when you can’t sleep. Watching your worries get sold back to you as you tried to figure out next move after losing a child. Because she was sad, which is the subject of many ads for people in her demographic, every ad was also a reminder of how she might not fit into that demographic anymore.

Recently I was on amazon to get a new PC. And I’ve been getting ads and emails offering me laptops. Even after I’ve purchased the product. This is the same for her. She is getting these ads because she spent months browsing and buying baby things, so it’s not totally abnormal to target her for baby things. But even if she didn’t lose the baby, people expected advertisers to stop or target them with something to need for the new stage of their lives. Or better still don’t send anything.

I run ads, too. If retargeting isn’t done right, it ends up annoying the receivers. There was a time I did research on ovulation and menstruation. It was for a 2-day gig, that was last month. I still got an email selling me menstruation products. And I’m not even a woman.

I didn’t say the algorithm know all of these things. But we search to discover, and that doesn’t mean we want the same thing shown to us for months.

Most targeted ads can be a particularly brutal reminder of trauma because the ads feel so personal and individualized, and because what you search for or browse online can affect the ads you see, creating a feedback loop of pain.

Solution — for normal people

— Get an ad blocker. It’s easy to use. And it gets rid of all the ads.

— Many ad providers allow you to click a small icon on the ad and for example choose that the ad is “not relevant”. This may help if you don’t want to block all ads.

— Maybe don’t use the internet again.

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Abimbola Lolade

Abimbola Lolade

Brutally honest articles on Marketing and Writing.