Tom Critchlow
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Occult Advertising

Emergent hidden meanings in advertising

The internet is awash with micro-targeted programmatic advertising.

When you see a digital ad - it’s fair to ask “why was I specifically shown this ad?” or, to take it one step further:

“which parts of this ad were made specifically for me?”

The social contract has shifted dramatically in recent times and stories like the Cambridge Aanlytica scandal create a greater sense of awareness in the general public of programmatic, targeted, personalized ads work. Kind of.

But there’s a lot of mysticism left.

When I see a specific ad - for example this one:

It’s obvious and clear why I’m seeing it. I visited bonobos.com recently.

But what about something like this:

Am I seeing this because:

My point is - even as a sophisticated digital media professional who knows more than most I don’t know exactly why this ad is being shown to me. Or, who else it’s being shown to.

Enter the occult

Somewhere over the last 15 years there is a shift from “why are they marketing to these kinds of people” to “why are they marketing to me, specifically”.

And how does that make us feel? What do they know on us? Am I pregnant? Am I an alcoholic?

Algorithms are predatory. They are hunt for conditions. One click on a pins website and you’re hunted by the algorithms, not just for that one website but all pins websites. There’s blood in the feed. The algorithms taste it and the hunt is on.


This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in disqus or sign up for my Tinyletter.