A while ago I noticed that the day after I had been searching online for a certain type of light bulb, the ads on various web pages I viewed featured similar light bulbs. I also buy and browse office supplies at a major retailer. I won’t mention their name–they’re not paying me anything–but I’ve also noticed that soon after I buy something from them I start seeing their ads for the same or similar items.
Initially, of course, this results in a sort of creepy feeling because the internet is spying on me, it knows where I’ve been and what I’ve bought. After a while I made my peace with that, an uneasy peace but what the hell. Buying this stuff online, with free next-day delivery, saves me the hassle of getting in my car and driving several Boston-area miles (1 Boston mile is equivalent to, say, 2 Minneapolis miles; 3 or 4 at rush hour, which lasts most of the day) to a crowded mall parking lot where my car is likely to get dinged or worse. Not driving saves me the stress of getting the finger from drivers who want to pass me on the right in residential areas because I’m only going 30 in a 25 zone. Maybe the upside to having my life be an open book to the adbots on the internet outweighs the downside after all.
I’m in the middle of a job-hunt, though (actually I hope it’s the end of the hunt and there’s a job in my immediate future–not that I have any evidence upon which to base that hope in this lousy job market), so I look at these ads from the perspective of someone who has worked as a book editor for a lot of years and believes strongly in the ability to transfer skills and is frustrated by the job market’s refusal to buy that premise. I have to assume that whoever wrote the algorithms for these ads has some sort of marketing savvy–but then again maybe not. The day after I purchased an 8-gigabyte flash drive and an 8-prong surge protector for my son to take to school, the office supplier tried to sell me a 4-gig flash drive and and 6-prong surge protector. Whenever I buy ink cartridges for the one printer I own, it tries to sell me cartridges for printers I do not own. If I buy blue ballpoint pens it tries to sell me–wait for it–blue ballpoint pens. As if I emptied a dozen pens in the day and a half since receiving my free delivery.
Based on the evidence, I think I could be a marketing genius, too. If all it takes is looking at what the customer just bought and then trying to sell them equal or lesser versions of the same product, or randomly related products, well, I think I can do that. I know it doesn’t make sense. I worked as a bookseller a couple of decades ago, and I never once suggested to a customer, “Oh, you liked Stephen King’s Cujo? Might I suggest that you buy another copy since you liked it so much?” But if this is what passes as internet marketing I don’t anticipate too many challenges if someone puts me on the payroll.
I’ve decided to celebrate this sort of marketing, when it occurs on blogs and sites that I like and visit often, by clicking through on the ads regardless of their obvious irrelevance to my life, just so the site’s proprietor can get his or her 48 cents, or whatever the going rate is these days. Every little bit helps, and I’m glad to do my part.