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.
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).
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