In case you weren’t yet notified by your clearly morally superior friends’ Instagram story, everyone, except you, went out and voted this week. Intellectuals across the country remembered to comply with their patriotic obligation, to cast a tally towards their favorite name on a ballot screen.
I, of course, a learned man, was watching cat videos on YouTube the night before the dawn of our country’s highest and least celebrated accomplishment, participatory democracy. Thank God for that, because in the nick of time, I was berated by targeted ads straight to the face. I thus rose to duty. Suddenly, I realized that I must accept my call to arms, to vote these men and women whom I had just met into the most highly sought after and powerful positions in the world, to dictate my fate, and tell me how to live my life accordingly. What a relief, because I am far too unread to comprehend true liberty and freedom.
Thanks to what millennials refer to as “cyber hangout spots”, or something like that, websites like, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube allow ads to be spearheaded directly into the eyes and ears of specialized and specific groups. This is because these websites are a breeding ground for what is referred to as “demographic data”.
Basically, what this means is that, all your clicks, searches, friends, and interests are compiled into massive data sheets which allow for companies to narrow the search for their consumer. The more you use these websites, the more efficient this process becomes. Since all I do during work is scroll through my feed, the line between content and advertisement becomes blurred, and is also how these candidates were able to reach my political enthusiasm on the eve of election day.
Other than feeling like I now have some understanding of where that large portion of my paycheck is now going, I still felt some sort of feeble, vulnerability after casting my ballot. Like, I had not just wrangled and saddled the country’s growing social and economic crisis with my vote like an untamed, wild horse, and rode it into the sunset and credits in an old John Wayne film. No, I still felt naked. I still actually was naked, writing this article now in my bedroom. But that’s neither here nor there.
I began to question why I was even at the polling office. Had I just taken on my civic duty to elect my next officials into office out of shear passion or had I just been a victim of cyber hacking, another digit on a stats chart of effective ad campaigns?
The answer is both. Clearly, I wanted to be a part of the course of my future takes, or I wouldn’t have cast my ballot. Although, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had also been preyed upon. I had been, catch, line, and sinker! And, I’m glad that I had been lured into participating in our democracy. Here I was, standing outside of the polling office that I didn’t know existed 24 hours ago. I had been directly targeted without my consent and it resulted in a positive experience. How can something seemingly so insidious be so productive? This got me thinking about the nature of targeted ads.
Targeted advertisement turns marketing on its head. Instead of casting a wide net to the broadest, most unsuspecting audience possible, companies are choosing to spend less money on more direct messages towards a previously baited demographic. The demographic data collected allows companies to deploy relevant ad campaigns towards pre-primed customers. The irony in all of this is that the audience already wants what the advertisement is offering. They just might not know it yet!
So, if you have what I want, and I just don’t know that yet, the goal then just becomes paying money to reach an eager audience. Well played, capitalism.
While targeted advertisement still has some people feeling uneasy, and we know Mark Zuckerberg is still shaking in his humanoid exoskeleton after Facebook’s data breaches, the only thing I can tell you is that it’s effective and it’s here to stay. And as I leave the polling office and reflect on how I ended up in this 1984 novel, I can’t help but feel like it’s enabled me to grow as a person. Somewhere up there, I know Big Brother is proud.