Marketing Firms Are Feeding Off Your Insecurities


If you have ever felt personally targeted by a Facebook ad, you are far from alone. Targeted advertising has become a boon for marketers, and ranges anywhere from mildly helpful to downright offensive in the eyes of the average user. I personally never find it amusing when I sit down to work or check my email, and am bombarded with advertisements pitching me diet pills, weight loss clinics, cosmetics, and even Botox injections. It’s not just your browsing history that triggers these advertisements, either. It is now possible to gather personal information from just about anyone, without the use of cookies. If your device is somehow able to grasp your demographic category, and it gathers that you might be young and female, you’re about to get catered to by a plethora of audience-hungry advertisers – who know exactly what time of the day you’re going to ‘need’ a confidence boost.

Marketing firm PHD, an agency that prides itself on "thought leadership," has successfully reached an all-time low in the world of advertising ethics, with a new report that documents when women are feeling their most vulnerable and physically insecure. The firm doesn’t look into how these insecurities can be changed, of course – the profit of their clients undermines any sliver of morality a company could potentially demonstrate. Instead, they release the information to marketers, recommending that brands "concentrate media during prime vulnerability moments." According to PHD’s head of brand planning Kim Bates, "Identifying the right time to engage with consumers with the right message is Marketing 101 - but when you are trying to connect with women on so personal an issue as appearance, it can be even more important to understand the wrong time as well." For her company, this means taking the knowledge that women aren’t morning people and utilizing it as a prime marketing opportunity during which they aim to make presumptuous self-improvement advertisements at their height of visibility, and thereby gain more customers.

Playing on women (and men’s) insecurities is in no way a new strategy for advertisers. But as citizens of the digital age, we are faced with a surplus of new issues – mainly in that we are easier to target, but also in that it’s harder for us to avoid using the internet, which serves partially as a bulletin-board for individualized advertising. Advertisers in this age have a powerful advantage over consumers. Tracking mechanisms can recognize that a user is between the ages of 18-25, of a certain gender, and can even identify this user on multiple devices – meaning users can be thrown the same type of advertisements whether they’re using their smart phone, laptop, tablet, or a device at work. And the overload stretches beyond that – your internet activity can influence what ads you see on television through bundled internet-television packages. As a result we, the ever plugged-in generation, are more constantly flooded with commercials that turn a profit on our most intimate vulnerabilities than any other generation before.

The worst part? In the free-for-all frenzy that constitutes the internet, there is absolutely no way to prevent young and adolescent internet users from being negatively affected by the ads they see. A decade or two ago, advertisements that capitalized on our insecurities were only a reality when you stumbled upon them in public. Now they fill up your screens and cater to your interests. Now, they follow you. Because of this, there should be an obligation for advertisers and marketing firms such as PHD to keep in mind the potentially impressionable demographic of their audience. However, seeing how that would compromise their profits, expecting advertisers to take on that level of responsibility is a long stretch. More realistically, the onus is now on companies such as Facebook or Google, to improve the types of advertisements they host on their websites. Because even though I might be told I need to try new anti-aging products or new weight loss tips on a daily basis, at least I wasn't subjected to that condescension as a child. It would be ideal if future generations of children and preteens could avoid the potentially disastrous effects of having to endure those messages wherever they turn.