Absurd Ad Targeting

7.20.17_Features_Absurd Advertisements__Catie Byrne (2)

Courtesy of Catie Byrne

Catie Byrne
Features Editor

Have you ever worried you were going to die of cancer? I have, but not because it’s an entirely normal human anxiety.

It all started on social media; I was scrolling through my feed on the social media website, Tumblr.com, and came across an inexplicably humorous sponsored advertisement, entitled: “Prostate cancer treatments.”

Of course, I am a woman and am not transgender, so I found the implication that I was somehow capable of getting prostate cancer amusing and moved on. Little did I know, however, that this was just the beginning of an onslaught of absurd targeted advertisements.

I can speculate that the cancer ads began because I googled something about lung cancer life expectancy, as my aunt was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months ago. However, nothing could prepare me for the consequence of this google search.

Over the course of one week, I encountered over 125 advertisements about cancer treatments; 25 of them comprised of the same prostate cancer treatment advertisement, with 5 different variants of the men representing this ad.

The next bizarre advertisement trend that followed was, after mentioning that I took a medication that helps me sleep at night on social media, I became inundated with a plethora of advertisements for Alzheimer’s disease treatment options.

And while I was vaguely aware that this medication, in excessive use, has been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, I was not expecting 12 gray-haired men with lost expressions and their concerned wives to greet me in targeted advertisements, no less about treating Alzheimer’s disease.

In between advertisements regarding my potential treatment options for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, I encountered advertisements for Lupus, Pulmonary Fibrosis, diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis treatments, Fibromyalgia, Asthma and asthma medication, dry eyes and two separate advertisements with the identical ominous header: “12 symptoms of” paired with distinct images I can only imagine were intended to represent a human organ.

Of course, of all the advertisements I encountered in this week, nothing could compare to that of a women’s clinic advertisement which was brashly headlined: “Recurrent Miscarriages?”

I had to wonder, with all of these health diagnosis advertisements; was something wrong with me? If nothing was wrong with me, why did my targeted advertisements feel like a cue card for every possible diagnosis mentioned in an episode of “House M.D.”

Breaking them down, I could trace a logic to a few of these advertisements: the asthma was because I had once mentioned on social media that my mother had asthma, the Multiple Sclerosis advertisement was because I googled something related to MS as another one of my relatives has Multiple Sclerosis, my lung cancer google as well as the thin line that could be distantly drawn between my nightly medication and Alzheimer’s disease. Everything else, however, was a mystery.

In the midst of barrage of targeted advertisements trying to convince me that I was dying of cancer, among other things, I did however, encounter some humorous advertisements.

Some of my favorite funny ads included such headlines as: “Diary of a Minecraft Creeper Book 1,” “20 Historical Photos We Might Question About” and — I swear on my life that I am not making this up — an advertisement entitled: “Swift Justice: Hardcore/punk cover band of Taylor Swift.”

While the title and sub-headline for the “Swift Justice” advertisement were amusing on their own, the entire advertisement was truly an enigma.

Created from what I can only imagine is a dark and strange corner of the internet, the accompanying photo for the advertisement featured a photo of Taylor Swift photoshopped to have green skin next to a pondering Pepe the frog meme, all while wearing a t-shirt with ambiguous alt-right symbolism and a “Make America Great Again Hat.” The kicker of this advertisement of course, is that when you clicked on it, it linked directly to Taylor Swift’s official website.

For targeted advertisements such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease treatments, I can connect the dots to a logic in my internet web traffic, I cannot, however, explain why my social media was advertising me a punk, alt-right Taylor Swift cover band. I am neither an aficionado nor a fan of any of the things featured in the Taylor Swift advertisement, so I can concede that there are some targeted advertisements that I will never understand.

And while I suppose a logical conclusion to be drawn from this exploration of targeted advertisements is to be mindful of the information you divulge on social media, is it possible to post “I’m going to the beach!” on social media without encountering 37 advertisements for Melanoma treatments? The world may never know.



Categories: Features, technology

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