The Necessary Evil of Targeted Ads and How to Eliminate Them

Targeted ads are simply the cost of doing business on the Web. It takes billions of dollars to build and maintain sites like Google and Facebook, and we don’t pay anything to use them. Parting with some private information and agreeing to tolerate some ads is our end of the bargain.

The industry of collecting, aggregating and brokering personal data is known as “database marketing.” The second-largest company in this field, Acxiom, has 23,000 computer servers that process more than 50 trillion data transactions per year, according to The New York Times. It claims to have records on hundreds of millions of Americans, including 1.1 billion browser cookies, 200 million mobile profiles and an average of 1,500 pieces of data per consumer.

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Even with all the information that is gathered, some companies still make mistakes and haven’t polished their marketing techniques.  

Farhad Manjoo of Slate shares some examples of poorly targeted campaigns from his coworkers. One colleague, he mentions, was stalked for weeks by Warby Parker, a spectacle retailer after he’d ordered a try-on pair. Another coworker purchased a couple of bras from Soma Intimatesusing her home computer. Then, back at her work, Soma began peppering her with ads showing half-naked women to anyone who happened by her desk.

My co-worker Adam recently looked up a pair of Asics sneakers for himself and was targeted repeatedly by ads at work. If these companies spent a little more time and energy on learning about who they are targeting their ads to, they would realize that even though showing the ad to Adam during work hours keeps it in his mind, he would not be buying the shoes at that time.

This particular marketing tactic is called “remarketing.”

The theory is that once you’ve visited a certain company’s site but failed to buy anything, you’ve expressed enough interest to make you a target for more ads. You’re the one who got away and if the company is persistent enough, maybe they can get you back!

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Omar Al-Hajjar, Indochino’s ad manager, told the e-commerce news site GetElastic that every time his firm increases the amount of ads it shows to people who have visited the site, its traffic and sales go up. “Users don’t seem to mind,” he said.

If you don’t like being targeted by these ads, there is a simple fix. You can install several different ad blockers onto your computer. See if your browser has ad-block extensions. Google Chrome hasAdBlock and Facebook Customizer (by Adblock Plus) so you can remove all the annoying ads. Sites like Disconnect.Me are a fast and easy approach to searching privately using your favorite search engine.

Tell us about your experience with persistent ads. Do you feel like they are following you wherever you go? How have you dealt with them?

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