Life is like a Targeted Ad, You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get? Or Do You?

Remember the days when you could simply scroll through social media, visit a website or check your email inbox without being influenced by outside sources? The days when your life was unperturbed by targeted ads, constantly trying to sell you something? It feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

I’m not sure if we’ve become desensitized due to a constant surplus of information, or if we’ve simply developed an ad-immunity. Targeted ads are neither surprising nor unexpected in today’s Information Age. Somehow, though, the appearance of ads across social media feels profoundly more personal.

While the days of expecting that our browsing history and online profiles are private have surely slipped away, not so subtle reminders of an item we forgot to buy on Amazon or an article we might like to read somehow feel invasive. If our online behavior and CTR are serving as catalysts for these targeted advertisements, why does it feel so unsettling?

Let me give you an example. A few months ago, I saw a fabulous pair of open-toed, ox blood booties by TOMS. I mulled over the purchase for months, after all, shoes are serious business. Finally, I took a chance and purchased the shoes online. Ever since then, however, I continue to see the exact shoe I purchased everywhere, whether it be on Facebook, Amazon, or a random website. While these targeted ads can be helpful at times and inspire an additional purchase, in this case, the ad became a nuisance. I’ll give TOMS the benefit of the doubt, but remind me to purchase them at the store in the future.

While I’m sure that many of you have experienced something similar, the ultimate question is, does targeted advertising bring more harm than good? Are the ads even effective, or do they push prospective consumers away? Have you ever subscribed to a service or purchased a product as a result of a targeted ad? Are there certain types of ads that you find to be more invasive than others? Do certain social platforms influence your opinion of targeted ads? For example, do you enjoy the targeted ads on Instagram, but find them irritating on Facebook? Do you think targeted ads are here to stay? Are there any provisions we can take as consumers to minimize targeted ads and enhance the online experience? How do they impact the brand as a whole?

If life is like a targeted ad, I want to know what I’m gonna get.


Ben Elhadj-Ben Brahim, N., Lahmandi-Ayed, R., & Laussel, D. (2011). Is targeted advertising always beneficial? International Journal of Industrial Organization, 29(6), 678-689.

Li, Y., Lin, L., & Chiu, S. (2014). Enhancing targeted advertising with social context endorsement. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 19(1), 99-128.

Targeted advertising deemed ‘creepy’. (2015). Long Island Business News.

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7 Responses to Life is like a Targeted Ad, You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get? Or Do You?

  1. labbasi says:

    I find it unsettling how much of what we do online is tracked. We somewhat have power in controlling our social media accounts but can’t control advertisers following our steps. I would fight to say it is more harmful. I get annoyed and pass on the advertisement on all medias because I already know what it is. I would stop and look if it was something different. If I already looked it up, I already know about the product.

    Yet, I don’t blame the brands as much. I put the blame on myself since I think it’s me not clearing my history and my Chrome browser keeping strange tabs on me. I heard of private settings you can set on your laptop when you search things, but I always forget to try it out and see if there is a difference.

    Targeted ads are not leaving anytime soon, but I know there will be someone who will find a way to block them like we did with pop-up ads started trolling the internet.

  2. giotta says:

    Digital and social media marketing are not going to disappear any time soon. So, if I have to look at ads while I’m browsing the internet or scrolling through a social media feed, I would prefer they are relevant to my interests. Therefore, I do not mind targeted ads. However, I think the type of ad plays a huge role in my perception of the brand or the product being advertised.

    In my opinion, the most irritating and invasive targeting ads are delivered via e-mail. I hate waking up to 30+ spam emails every morning and sorting through my inbox to delete all the junk. I have never made a purchase or subscribed to anything that comes through email. Even more frustrating, it seems like unsubscribing from email lists is no longer affective… Somehow the same advertisers continue to find me. The quickest way to get me to reject a brand or product is to target me through email.

    On the other hand, I do not mind banner ads while I am browsing the internet, or the sponsored ads on social media. I find they are generally related to my interests, and I have the ability to acknowledge and engage with the ad or simply ignore it. As a result, I have made purchases from both banner ads and ads on social media. I think this can be attributed to the fact I don’t feel like the brands are trying to hard sell me. Instead, I have a choice, and feel like my “personal space” (not sure thats the right term for the digital realm) is not being violated.

  3. jieqionh says:

    Although the idea of targeted ads as ‘based on the collection of my behavior’ makes me feel uncomfortable, in practice, it really depends on what I intend to do when encountering those targeted ads and in what form those ads appear.

    If I am looking for something specifically, I feel those targeted ads are really helpful to guide me in certain directions or provide me extra relevant materials. The customized feature actually saves my time and effort.
    However, most of the time, I am surfing randomly and not searching for something specific. At that moment, those ads can be annoying, especially the pop-ups, pop-unders and overlay ads. They are intrusive and disturbing to what I intend to do or am currently doing. By comparison, I don’t mind if it is not intrusive.

    In addition, I feel strongly relate to Giotta who pointed out that the unsubscribing emails from some brands are the most annoying type. We have to register with our email address to get some discount but the following emails are just useless. If I love the brand, I will go to their stores whether online or offline spontaneously, I don’t need any reminder or alarm! This strategy is simply meaningless and may leave a negative impression on customers.

    In general, although I felt creepy at the beginning, I am now feeling normal; or in other words, just getting used to it and having the agency to ignore it when it is not something I want.

  4. sunniexyy says:

    For me, these targeted ads will not affect me a lot if they can be closed. I am annoyed by those ads that keep appearing on my pages when I am reading articles or searching for important information. What’s more, I feel quite uncomfortable for those ads which take me to another website when I try to close them.

    Speaking of platforms, I do like these ads on Instagram, which are usually more good-looking and are tagged sponsored. Since these ads contain links to websites, I sometimes click the links to see if there are any products that I may buy. After all, there targeted ads are based on my viewing history and interest, so I find it quite effective at times. As long as they appear with a proper frequency, I think it is acceptable to have them on this platform.

    For a brand, over targeted advertising, which seems desperate and unwise, can stimulate customers’ negative feelings toward its brand image. However, since these ads target current and potential customers, they can possibly improve their interest to buy the products, under the condition that they are designed beautifully and give customers the choice to ignore them. On the whole, I don’t think targeted ads should be the first choices for a brand to increase sales or awareness.

  5. Ashley Jiang says:

    According to a study on people’s eye-tracking on search engine results page (, it finds that people look at both the main search results as well as the Targeted Ads sections. I’m surprised at the result because I personally feel confident in avoiding watching the targeted ads, but who knows, maybe subconsciously, I might have already been affected.

    I feel the example you gave is a bad SEO case; more sophisticated and logical targeted ads should be what Amazon did to me: I added a Moleskine notebook to my wish list, and it started to appear everywhere, with a price on it. I ended up buying the notebook, and thinking back to it, I might have been successfully targeted.

    Judging from the study of eye-tracking, I feel targeted ads are still effective because people are actually reading and seeing them. But the target should be a good one; otherwise it will only cause reverse effect.

  6. ruoqihao says:

    Targeted advertising has been part of the Internet experience since the late 1990s. Targeted ads have been an essential trend with the development of Internet, since Internet has become part of our lives, just like shopping in the grocery store. Our decision-making and daily behavior may be explicitly and implicitly impacted by Internet. We browse product reviews to see which camera to purchase; we refer to stylist’s Instagram for make-up suggestion, etc. We, unintentionally, have left our online footmarks for advertisers to track and chase.

  7. anamrodr says:

    I think it depends on the type of consumer behavior you possess, if you’re either driven my impulse, rational, emotions or habit. Consumers driven by impulse could be more sensitive to ads than those acting upon rational.
    At least for me, I find targeted ads very annoying and I often find myself deleting my cookies and downloading ad blocker browsers or plugins to reduce their existence. Since we have these tools to somewhat counteract their pervasiveness I’m tolerant of them.
    I also agree that it depends on the platform, for instance in social media, users are engaging less cognitively, mainly browsing interesting posts, linking a photo, etc. But in other sites such as online news platforms, users tend to be more specific in their activity, in the sense that they know what they are looking for, then when a targeted ad pops up, obscuring the whole article, it becomes more irritating specially when the ad forces you to scroll down through the ad to make it go away, making sure you take a glance at it first.
    However, in some instances, targeted ads can be very effective. Just a month ago I cancelled my Hulu subscription trial and a week afterwards I received an email from Hulu with a giff featuring the characters from one of my favorite shows with the caption reading ” We miss you”. I found it quite humorous and highly considered renewing my subscription.