How I Learned to Exploit Those Annoying Internet Ads

With Apple’s recent iOS 14.5 update last month, users will find it easier to decline to be tracked by any apps.  This may give iOS users the feeling of having more control over their privacy.  But marketers and business owners are running amuck, trying to pivot their strategies to continue to reach their target audiences online and be able to track the effectiveness of their marketing. 

This change will negatively impact small businesses that are used to the ease and affordability of online paid ads, whereas big corporations can afford more expensive advertising placements such as television, billboards, magazines,podcasts etc. In addition, small businesses rely heavily on user behavior data to make their marketing campaigns more efficient. 

I wasn’t always fond of paid advertisements. I felt like I was being digitally harassed. I would be minding my own business, trying to read something interesting online then, boom, a popup getting in the way of me and my content. Like an annoying fly that keeps buzzing by your ear no matter how hard you flail your arms trying to shoo it away. 

You visit a site one time. One time! Minutes later you are being accosted by images of the item you viewed, beckoning you to come back to the website and finish that purchase that you weren’t really sure you wanted to commit to in the first place. How do they find me? 

When I do actually make a purchase online, it seems as if it’s an invitation to send me more ads. This time calling for me to buy the product I just bought! Are you kidding me? 

It’s called retargeting, which is a terrible name because it sounds like people are literally being hunted. Retargeting is a marketing strategy that when tastefully executed can bring customers back to your website to buy more. It’s one of the most successful strategies for several reasons. 

First, the person who made a purchase clearly likes the product and they don’t need to be convinced that they should try it. Second, if someone was interested in a product enough that they put an item in their shopping cart but, for whatever reason didn’t go through with the purchase, there is a higher probability of that person returning to complete their transaction than someone who never even visited the site. That being said, it’s more cost effective to put ads in front of people who have shown interest in a product than it is to convince new people to consider a product.   

Oftentimes, though, the timing of the retargeted ad is not well thought out, and can leave a potential customer feeling exposed. Imagine if you are standing in line at the coffee shop and an ad for adult toys pops up on your screen big enough for the person behind you to see it. Maybe that wouldn’t bother you specifically, but I would be mortified. 

Tracking tells advertisers which ads bring in more customers. It gives insight to the type of content that resonates with their customers, and which social media channels their customers spend time in. It informs e-commerce owners whether their customers are purchasing on a desktop or mobile so they can optimize their sites to provide better customer service. Other ways to gather this information would be through surveys, but most people never bother to fill them out. 

Advertisers can select the parameters of the type of audience, what days and times they want their ads to run. The algorithm takes care of the rest. It is the computer that knows all your information, not the person behind the ad. But if people begin to opt-out of being tracked, small business owners will have a hard time finding their ideal customers.   

Once I learned how paid advertising works behind the scenes, I started paying more attention to the kind of ads I was being shown and I started having more appreciation for their algorithm and I figured out a way to make ads work for me instead of frustrate me:

  1. Paid ads keep me accountable. I’m terrible at gift giving. Unless I’m going to your house for a party I’ll probably send you a gift six months late, if at all. If I happen to make the effort to start thinking about a July birthday in April, the paid ads will keep reminding me that I still need to buy that gift. 
  2. I get introduced to new products and services I would have never otherwise known about. I’ve bought a lot of plants online, specifically from Bloomscape. One day I was shown an ad for Sculpd do-it-yourself pottery kits. Do I like pottery? Not particularly. But am I interested in this product because I could potentially make my own plant pots? Definitely. I assume the targeting parameters here consisted of women in a specific age range, that use Instagram, interested in or have purchased in plants. 
  3. They serve as my personal shoppers. I now intentionally click on ads so that I’ll get shown similar products and services. Because I made purchases from Bloomscape I often get ads from The Sill, The Bouqs Co., Soil & Clay, and so many others. This gives me an opportunity to compare prices on similar items or find plants on one website that the other might not have. It’s like going to the mall, but I get to stay on my couch in pj’s!
  4. An ad can be an opportunity.  While he was in the Army dreaming of working in tech, my husband was shown an ad for an org called Shift that helps servicemembers and veterans find opportunities to work and gain skills in tech companies. He applied and landed an internship at Uber, which turned into a full time job three months later, and now he works at Google.  

Despite the change, internet advertising isn’t going away. Facebook is certainly putting up a fight, and I won’t be surprised if a workaround is created to allow Facebook to keep making money on ads. 


Do you own an iOS device? Have you noticed a difference since the update? I’d love to read about it in the comments.  


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