When Ad Targeting Gets Too Specific

It’s a known fact that targeting for online advertising is becoming more and more specific by the minute. Companies look at users’ behavior—both online and offline—to determine which types of ads to serve to their target audience. 

At times the targeting gets so specific it’s almost creepy, but it could be a coincidence, right? 

I remember a quick trip to the store in which I was looking for a bag of popcorn for one of my friends. My other friend and I looked through the aisle but the popcorn wasn’t in sight. 

“Hm, what was the brand Emilie liked again?” my friend asked. 

“She likes brand X,” I said, “but I don’t think they have any so let’s get this one instead.” 

Later on, I opened up my phone to browse through Instagram, when (surprise?) I was met with a popcorn ad. Was it the brand we purchased? No, it was brand X, the one we said out loud that Emilie liked but wasn’t available. 

Were we freaked out? Admittedly, yes. But we penned it off as a coincidence. 

However, things like this always happen, and they seem like less of a coincidence every time. 

Cut to July 2020, mid-Coronavirus pandemic. One of my friends had been quarantined at home with his wife for months. 

He decided to go visit his mom, who he hadn’t seen in the longest time, for a weekend, just to check up on her. It was the first time in around ten months that he wasn’t in the same city as his wife. Do you know what’s crazy about this? Google was quick to realize that he wasn’t with his wife anymore! 

Don’t believe me? Look at the ads he was suddenly flooded with, nothing like he had ever received before.

Some were about finding ways to get women to talk to him or go out with him. 


Others were about dating apps with captions such as, “how to secretly date someone you work with.” 

All displayed to him while he was watching YouTube videos! Google and ad targeters somehow realized that he was away from home, away from the loving embrace of his wife, and decided to jump in and seize their chance. 

Now, you may say, “this has to be a coincidence.” But does it have to be? It seems like nowadays Google is learning more about us than even our friends might know! 

There are many implications to this type of ad targeting. The first thought that comes to mind is simply whether it’s ethical for Google to figure out such specific details about our lives. Knowing your preferred brands or the items you’re interested in buying is one thing, but what about using your location to determine when you’re far away from your loved ones?

And with this feature being available, another point comes to mind. Knowing that you are far away from your significant other introduces the question of morality, by allowing advertisers to target ads that may promote cheating or breaking up marriages.

All in all, these ads prove how specific ad targeting is becoming, but how specific is too specific? And where do we draw the line? Now, if something like this happens to you, be like my friend. Laugh at the ads and just skip them, then happily return to your significant other. Do you have any crazy ad stories?

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