Digital advertising

07 Sep 2018

It happens to everyone: in the middle of a movie, you realise that this is the third time that drink has made an appearance in the hero’s hand, or you scroll through a celebrity’s Facebook feed and realise that all their clothes are from the same brand. Digital advertising is a new field of marketing that is so confusing because of how creative it has become.

What is digital advertising?

Digital or online advertising is a type of marketing and advertising that uses the Internet to send marketing messages to people online. Here are some examples:

  • Adverts that play before you can access a product, e.g., a YouTube video or a news article
  • Sponsored posts on social media platforms, e.g., sponsored photos that look like a normal Facebook post, except you do not follow that company
  • Celebrities who are paid to post about certain brands
  • Email advertisements that market specific brands
  • Search engine marketing (SEM), when businesses bid on certain keywords so that their website appears higher on the results when someone searches that word

Companies can also encourage people to buy things online in very subtle ways. For example, if you go online shopping and click a shirt, phrases like “Last one in stock!” or “20% Discount” might appear. These advertising pitches are not the same for everyone looking at the shirt. Companies collect your data and study your buying patterns to figure out which is most likely to convince you to buy a product. If you are someone who is more likely to want something very few people have, the site automatically puts up “Last one in stock!” and if you like buying things on discount, the site loads “20% Discount”. In reality, there might still be hundreds of that shirt left, and the original price might be the same as the price you pay.

Plus, companies collect information on all our online activity. That means that when you search about the holiday you want to take to Krabi on Google, hotels and restaurants begin to be advertised on your Instagram and Facebook feeds. This is because all the information we give online is put into an algorithm that decides which ads are most likely to be relevant to us – that is, which we are most likely to fall for!

Why is digital advertising bad?

Digital advertising has the same effect as normal advertising: it makes you buy things. By convincing you that you want certain products or services enough to spend money on them, it drains your budget. The reason digital advertising is considered such a widespread risk is due to how much time we spend using digital media and social media platforms – it makes this form of advertising impossible to avoid.

It can also be frightening to consider the effects that advertising has on our ideas and thoughts – after all, have you ever wondered where the need for a diamond engagement ring came from? With digital advertising, it is easy to see the waves of products and services that have become popular for a short period of time, and difficult to predict whether these will have a long-lasting effect on the way we think of the world.

How can I spot digital advertising?

Since digital marketing can take so many forms, it can be hard to know when it is happening. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Check the hashtags: online celebrities promoting products usually label their sponsored videos/posts as advertisements using hashtags like #ad or #sponsored
  • Know which companies and brands you follow on social media: ‘native advertising’ refers to advertisements that look like part of your normal social media, like a photo that appears alongside your friends’ when you scroll through Facebook or Instagram – so keep an eye out for unfamiliar names and brands
  • Use ad-blocking tools: for all your digital devices, download ad-blocking tools that can help block website ads – however, lots of websites are impossible to access without disabling the ad-blocker, so it might make your online browsing experience more complicated
  • Be aware: while watching movies, TV shows, or even music videos, take note of instances of product placement – awareness is the first step to protecting yourself against the effects of digital advertising