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Everything That Was Advertised to Me in 24 Hours

April 10, 2018
Everything That Was Advertised to Me in 24 Hours | Tiny Ambitions

You may or may not know this about me, but I work in marketing. That might sound a bit hypocritical coming from a minimalist, but before you go burning me at the stake, I work in the education and non-profit sector. So, I feel pretty good about my day job.

Part of my job, as you can imagine, is to create ads, targeted to our core audience/demographic. But, I’ve always wondered if our ads actually reach who I want. To give myself a bit of a fun experiment, I decided to track all of the advertisements that I saw in one day.

My original inspiration for this came from one of my favourite Youtube shows, Good Mythical Morning. In an episode a couple of weeks ago, Jordan, a member of the crew, was tasked with buying everything that was advertised to him in one day. Obviously, I wasn’t going to do that. Because a) I’m a minimalist, b) I’m on a 365-day shopping ban and c) I’m not made of money.

So, at exactly 7:41 a.m. a couple of weeks ago, I started tracking everything that was advertised to me.

Everything That Was Advertised to Me in 24 Hours {Pin} | Tiny Ambitions

To give you some context, I don’t have cable or satellite TV, so TV ads were not part of my count. I also didn’t track ads that I saw while at my day job, as those ads were targeted toward my organization rather than specifically towards me.

All of that is to say, the ads that made my total count included: Youtube, social media, and ads on my phone via blog posts or news articles. I also included ads for specific deals and products on my 12-minute commute to and from work.

Drumroll please! All in all, in a 24 hour period, I saw 79 ads.

Now, I know that isn’t actually a lot, considering that the average adult sees as many as 5000 ads every single day. But, I was surprised the number was that high, especially since I’ve been steadily reducing my time on social media on a daily basis. I’m probably consuming the least amount of information I have in years, and 79 ads still managed to sneak through the cracks.

Because I am a fairly massive data nerd, I broke the ads down into the place where I saw the ad and the category of the ad itself (as you can see below).

Everything That Was Advertised to Me in 24 Hours - Graphic _ Tiny Ambitions

There are a couple of interesting data points from the charts above (in my weird, nerd brain, of course). 

Down and Dirty with the Data

First, Twitter was far and away the largest source of my ad consumption. I probably do spend the most social media time on Twitter, so that makes sense. But, I also think it’s because Twitter ads are very, very frequent in my feed. Sometimes I notice the ads scrolling by and sometimes I don’t. But, I know the ads are there.

Second, I was surprised that YouTube came in second (I thought for sure it would be first). I do consume a lot of content on YouTube, mostly from daily shows and vlogs that I enjoy. The thing about YouTube ads is, they are very obvious. There have only been a handful of times I’ve been tricked into thinking something was a video when it was, in fact, an ad. This is in contrast to Instagram ads, which normally blend in pretty well with the rest of my feed.

Last, but not least, I was surprised by the ads I saw on my commute to and from work. Not by the number of them, I expected that. Rather, I was surprised by their sheer ineffectiveness. I drive the same way to work each and every day (what can I say, I am a creature of habit). Until the day I decided to track ads, I would not have been able to tell you what I saw on my way to work. And, there’s a very good reason for this. When I’m driving to work, I’m driving to work. I’m not speed shopping for a new car or being tempted into trying the newest breakfast special at my local dive.

From a behavioural standpoint, it takes a heck of a lot of effort, energy, and attention to drive a car. I’m too focused on that to notice anything being advertised to me.

Does This Ad Make Me Look Fat?

Outside of the total number of ads I saw in a day, I was also interested in the kinds of ads I was seeing. What did the ads that were shown to me say about my online behaviour? Was I being targeted correctly? Or were ad dollars being wasted on me?

Based on the data I tracked (and because of the kind of person you can probably guess that I am), I can say confidently that advertisers are wasting their budgets on me.

The top three kinds of ads that I saw most frequently were technology (22), food (17), and sports (9).

Food is fair enough. Most of what i search for online is restaurants, grocery store hours and recipes. So, the algorithm’s have been pegged that way. The difference is that I can’t eat most of the goods advertised to me (dairy mostly), so they just aren’t relevant to me and I won’t be converting anytime soon.

The technology ads were diverse and ranged from domain hosting services to stock photography and everything in between. To be fair, I also probably fit the bill for these ads because of my blogging habit. What was frustrating was the sheer number of ads I saw for services I already use and pay for (cough, Bluehost, cough). From now on, I’ll be tapping “I don’t want to see this ad”, to hopefully train Twitter’s algorithm to skip me.

What was genuinely surprising were the sports ads. I don’t watch sports, I don’t play sports and, with the exception of yoga, I don’t work out. I’m not really sure what about my online behaviour makes ad algorithms think I’m their target audience, but it was an interesting observation.

Why Does This Matter?

What does any of this have to do in the grand scheme of things? I’m not entirely sure. It is important to be aware of the ads that make their way into our personal paces on a daily basis. I have nothing against advertising. It is a valuable tool for companies to expand their reach/spread the word about their products and services to new audiences.

And, in the democratization of information in the age of the internet, advertising keeps most of our social spaces free. And, I’m happy to keep it that way. I think the most important thing I learned from this exercise is that most ads are pretty irrelevant to my daily life. I can’t actually remember the last time I clicked on an ad on purpose.

However, that doesn’t mean I have to be a passive consumer of any ads that come my way. I can question why I’m seeing something, if it’s something I actually need to see on a daily basis. The good thing about most online platforms is you can mark ads as irrelevant, or offensive if you really don’t want them in your feeds.

Just because an algorithm chooses 90% of what you see online and when, doesn’t mean you have to play by its rules.

Have you ever noticed the kinds of ads you’re shown online? Are you surprised by what you see? Let me know in the comments!

Image Credit: Tiny Ambitions

 

  • […] to not having cable or Satellite TV. You might be surprised to see the data in her recent post, Everything That Was Advertised to Me in 24 Hours. We won’t give any more […]

  • Amy @ More Time Than Money April 13, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    This is fascinating. I’m going to give it a try. I think you did really well only to be exposed to 79 ads!

    • Britt April 13, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks, Amy! I agree – I think my total could have been much higher.

  • Penny (@picksuppennies) April 11, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    What is most jarring to me about advertising is when I can’t escape it at work. It’s more problematic when I say my classroom, I suppose. Some of the tools (Quizlet, etc.) that we have students use have SO MUCH advertising in them. I watch them become visibly distracted. And don’t even get me started on what Spark Notes has become. Yikes!

    This is so interesting, Britt! What a fun (and sad and scary) experiment!

    • Britt April 11, 2018 at 6:01 pm

      That’s so interesting! I had no idea there was advertising in educational tools (but I haven’t been in a classroom in a very long time). I can see how that would be a big distraction for your students.

      I wonder if there’s any workaround for that? I guess new tools probably will run into the same kinds of issues. It’s great that online free teaching tools exist, but not at the expense of learner’s attention spans.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your perspective Penny!

  • Jack The Dreamer April 11, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Hi Britt,

    as a fellow minimalist, would the main way to decrease seeing ads be just to decrease usage of social media? Or are viewing ads, whether conscious or subconscious, not important anymore because we just glance over them anyways?

    This is an interesting experiment and made me want to do it too over 24 hours to see how many ads I encounter. Though it does require us to be aware at all times?

    And because you’re in marketing, would the future of ads be moving toward pay per impression instead of pay per click? If almost no one is clicking on them now a days?

    Thanks for a nice data and analysis article 🙂
    -Jack

    • Britt April 11, 2018 at 5:57 pm

      Hi Jack- so many good questions!

      First, I think conscious and unconscious, ads in our social feeds are still adding to a general degree of mental clutter. So I do think decreasing social media time overall would be a good first step. I consider myself a pretty light social media user, so my ad numbers are probably pretty conservative compared to a heavy user.

      Second, I had to be super aware for the whole 24 hours of tracking. That’s what made it so interesting! If I wasn’t so aware, I wouldn’t have noticed a lot of the ads (especially not the ones on my commute to work).

      Lastly, I still prefer a pay per click model for ads. If marketers are paying for impressions, but people are abrely registering them (like my experiment proved to me), that’s not a good use of ad spend and wouldn’t be likely to lead to lasting customers. I’ll take fewer clicks from interested people than 1000 impressions from people who couldn’t care less.

      Thanks for all your awesome questions!

      • Jack The Dreamer April 11, 2018 at 6:07 pm

        Thank you for taking the time to respond back, Britt!

        I hadn’t thought about your third point with pay per click. From your vantage point on the other side of the ad machine, you bring up a very good point.

        If one of the main points of ads is to engage with people who are interested in what you offer, then in the long run, it’s still the best option. Huh 🤔 lol

        I suppose we could also extrapolate this into a deeper understanding of life with something like “active engagement in life is better than passive engagement in life” (with regards to ads? Lol)

        I digress: Though with the passive pay per view ad model, wouldn’t it be good for if you’re trying to manipulate social perceptions? Even if they don’t click on your ad, that impression is already out in the world no? Then we get into the mass media manipulation and propaganda rabbit hole so you don’t have to respond to this comment lol

  • Tread Lightly, Retire Early April 11, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    Hmmm. I have no idea how many I see during the day, but social media is definitely top for me. I get pretty good at ignoring them though, so I couldn’t tell you the content of practically any of them.

    • Britt April 11, 2018 at 5:52 pm

      I definitely feel the same way. If I hadn’t done this experiment, I would have no idea how many I’d seen in a day.

  • LadyintheBlack April 11, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    This is FASCINATING. I am also a marketer. My takeaway from this article might be a bit different. To me, the big problem is the subconscious clutter this amount of visual/mental stimulation adds to our already busy brains. While I wouldn’t classify myself as a classic minimalist (although that’s up for debate), I am pretty stingy about what goes into my brain. My friends and family will often hear me say “oh, I don’t need that in my brain.” But, as you pointed out, being barraged by over 5,000 ads per day hogs up an immeasurable share of your conscious and unconscious mental processes. While I might make my money from marketing, I am obviously not it’s biggest fan. Thanks this GREAT article and very interesting experience.

    • Britt April 11, 2018 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks, Lady! And I completely agree. There is just so much stuff out there looking for our attention and views that it becomes overwhelming to our already overwhelmed brains.

      I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t have room in my brain for anything but what is essential in that moment. If I don’t need it, I purge it from my memory haha

      Thanks for reading!

  • Erin | Reaching for FI April 11, 2018 at 11:27 am

    A while ago I started clicking the “this ad doesn’t apply to me” button on my personal Twitter account and quickly wished I hadn’t since the ads started getting more targeted, and what seemed to me more aggressive/frequent. I’ve decided I’m perfectly happy to let them show me ads I’m not interested in as it makes it more likely that they fly under my radar and I’m only slightly annoyed by their presence when I do notice them but then move on.

    • Britt April 11, 2018 at 12:04 pm

      I had not even though of this perspective, but it makes so much sense! I’m also perfectly happy to see ads that don’t apply to me, it’s just funny that somewhere a marketer didn’t target properly and it’s going to cost them.

      It almost seems like they want us to do their job for them (by marking stuff as irrelevant). No thank you!

  • Elementum Money April 11, 2018 at 1:41 am

    It’s an interesting analysis here… Being a marketeer myself, the suprisingly flawed targetting is quite a shocker, especially for sports.

    As for outdoor advertising, it makes sense only in cities like Mumbai or New York where there is a perpetual traffic jam. However, even there, it is generally such a cluttered advertising space that any brand will barely be able to stand out and make an impact.

    Apart from that, I am surprised you did not get too many advertisements about apparel or shopping per se. Maybe because you don’t browse that much for thset categories.

    • Britt April 11, 2018 at 7:45 am

      It was a very interesting exercise! Honestly, I’m surprised I saw any clothing ads at all. I barely shop anymore, so its just a waste of advertising dollars to target me for that. Thanks for reading!

  • Linda Sand April 10, 2018 at 10:54 pm

    We once bought a new vehicle where we told the dealer that if he put his ad on our car we would charge him an advertising fee.

    Do you buy yoga clothes on line? That might be the source of sports ads.

    • Britt April 11, 2018 at 7:46 am

      Haha that’s amazing! And I used to buy yoga clothes online, but I haven’t in years.

  • Amanda of My Life, I Guess April 10, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    That is crazy! I’m sure I am exposed to that many ads in a day, too, but like you said – so many of them you don’t even really notice. I find it interesting that on Twitter a lot of the ads I see are Alberta focused (which is super weird because I’ve never even been to Alberta, let alone searching for utility companies they have there).

    • Britt April 10, 2018 at 8:27 pm

      That is so bizarre! Sometimes, the algorithms get it way wrong. Which is almost more interesting than when they get it right. Thanks for reading, Amanda!

  • Sarah April 10, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Yikes! I’d love to try this and imagine my number would be even higher since I do have cable.

    I always think it’s insane how targeted ads are getting. Obviously it’s effective but it’s also plain creepy. I swear instagram listens to our conversations through our phones. The other day the bf and I were talking about how we have no regrets selling our jeep but that it would be nice to still have an SUV. Maybe half an hour later he was browsing through instagram and a jeep ad popped up. And he certainly hasn’t been googling that since there’s zero plans to buy one.

    I do agree that I’m ok with ads if they keep the services I use free, and for the most part I can flip through without noticing them too much.

    • Britt April 10, 2018 at 7:17 pm

      I’m pretty sure Instagram does listen in actually. Cait and Carrie actually talked about it briefly in an episode of their podcast (Honest Money Conversations), and it is downright freaky.

      I don’t mind having ads around if it keeps some thing free- but having zero boundaries on how advertisers access and target me is a very concerning.

      Thanks for reading, Sarah!

  • Lisa | Simple Life Experiment April 10, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    What an awesome and eye-opening experiment you conducted on yourself, Britt! I love this kind of thing! Wow, 79 ads in one day is a lot, and if you were the average consumer who might spend almost all of their free time on social media, it really would be a lot more!

    In the face of all the negative aspects of corporate advertising, I think you make a great point about ads actually keeping our social spaces free. I’m very aware that my own blog shows ads to readers (what kind of ads they are, I’m not sure. Presumably targeted stuff based on users’ search histories?) and I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I do appreciate being able to blog as a hobby without having to invest any money in it. To date, I’ve put $0 into blogging but I get SO much out of it, so I’m really pleased about having all those free resources available to me.

    Something I’m trying to be quite aware of is the way clothing and shoes can act as ads, too. I so often see people wearing clothing that has the brand’s name and/or logo on it in a very obvious location. Obviously each to their own, but I don’t really like the idea of paying a company money just so I can advertise their products. Surely, if anything, it should be the other way around?

    • Britt April 10, 2018 at 7:15 pm

      I’d never thought about ads from a bloggers point of view, that you make a really good point! I pay to not have ads on my site, which seems so backwards when I think about it.

      But having the free blog option is crucial! So, I’m glad its working out for you.

      I’ve often thought about obviously branded clothing and I completely agree with you. We bought their product, that should mean they pay us to advertise it for them, not the other way around with a gross logo.

      Thanks for reading, Lisa! And I agree, if I had done this experiment a couple of years ago, my numbers would have been much much higher!

  • Daisy April 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    I also work in marketing! *waves* At my day job, we generally don’t do ads on social media; mostly word of mouth and on a few vehicles and billboards. (When I say a few, I mean like roughly 20 different ones in total in more than 50 countries so I find that few.) We’ve found ads through media don’t get us many loyal fans as word of mouth does. We get a lot of followers at first but they move on to the next new thing after a while. It’s interesting how your data that you didn’t click on any of the ads (and were mostly blind to them) matches our results. There’s just too much of it that we learn to block it out.

    On a personal note, I have to admit I do the same. Thanks for taking this experiment to the next level, Britt!

    • Britt April 10, 2018 at 7:08 pm

      It would be interesting to see how your day of ads would look compared to mine, since we’re both in marketing. Thanks for reading, Daisy!

  • Jess April 10, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    That was a really interesting experiment! I never thought about the numbers before, but 79 seems so high! Wow, we really are bombarded by ads all day long.

    I find it really creepy when the same ads follow me around from site to site. I know there’s a “do not track” feature, but I don’t think most advertisers respect that. I am kind of happy when they show me irrelevant ads, because it means they’ve messed up their personalization algorithm and can’t show me relevant stuff and tempt me to buy it 🙂 I’ve never clicked on those “mark as irrelevant” buttons because I feel that is just giving advertisers more info about me, which I don’t want to do!

    • Britt April 10, 2018 at 7:09 pm

      Oh I hadn’t thought of that before! But that makes perfect sense – if you mark an ad as irrelevant, you’re just doing the advertisers job for them.

      I also don’t like how ads follow you around, it is downright creepy sometimes. Thanks for reading, Jess!

  • theluxestrategist April 10, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Hey Britt,

    I feel like I’m pretty “blind” to ads, and have learned to just ignore them. I’m surprised about the Twitter ads you mentioned, though! When I have noticed them, I felt like the algorithm was really off. For example, I got served a Twitter ad about teddy bear cookies.

    The ads I see for me on blogs, etc. are usually because I was shopping, and then the thing I was shopping kind of follows me around. Fair game! However, I can’t recall ever clicking through and actually moving forward with the purchase.

    • Britt April 10, 2018 at 12:31 pm

      That’s so interesting! I think this experiment proved how oblivious I am to most ads (which is a good thing I think?). I also don’t think I’ve ever clicked through an ad and purchased something. There’s probably an interesting psychological reason behind that too!

      Thanks for reading, Luxe!

      In general, I don’t think ads are built for people who really like to research and take their time before purchasing (aka us).

  • Jacqueline April 10, 2018 at 7:38 am

    Love this post! This winter I taught my first prenatal class and you can guess what happened. All the research made the algorithms assume I was pregnant! It wasn’t a crazy amount of ads but I certainly was getting a handful of baby product ads for a while. I find it equally interesting and frustrating that online ads often end up being for things I’ve researched and then already made a decision about. I rarely see advertising when it would be most effective! Thanks for the pie charts, they made me happy.

    • Britt April 15, 2018 at 9:27 am

      Hey Jaki! Sorry, I didn’t respond earlier – my spam filter flagged your comment. Anyway, that’s so interesting! I feel like algorithms do the best the can but they obviously aren’t perfect (which is probably a good thing). To a computer, what possible other reason could you have for research pre-natal yoga if you weren’t actually pregnant? It’s an interesting case of a computer isn’t a human being and can’t possibly understand all the motivations behind our online actions. And, I’m perfectly happy to keep a computer in the dark about my life if I can. Thanks for reading and commenting. And congrats on teaching a prenatal class! I’m sure it went awesome. 🙂

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.

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