Digital advertising

12 Sep 2018

Has this happened to you: 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 or influencers 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
  • Sites that function as ads for a company, e.g., Disney games that advertise the Disney brand

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 that 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, don’t advertisements of fast food make you want to visit your favourite fast food restaurants more often? Particularly where food is concerned, digital advertising can have negative effects on your health and body image in the longer term.

How does digital advertising work?

There are several strategies that digital marketing often uses, which can help you spot them.

  • Bribe: you get something free if you buy the product, like small toys in cereal packets
  • Game: play a game and win a prize if you buy the product
  • Promise: tells you that the product is the best in the world, will help you make friends, play better, run faster, and all sorts of other promises
  • Story: telling you an interesting story so that you keep watching
  • Joke: making you laugh so that you like the product more
  • Music: catchy jingles or popular songs that make you like the product more
  • Famous people: using popular people so that you think you can be like them if you also use the product
  • Cartoon character: using cartoon characters that you know and like to sell you something
  • Special effects: making the product look better using different lighting or make-up
  • Repeat: playing the same ad so many times that you can’t forget it

How can I spot digital advertising?

Since digital marketing can take so many forms, it can be hard to know when it is happening and how to deal with it. Here are a few tips on helping you understand and manage digital advertising:

  • Use different channels or apps: there are channels as well as online apps that let you watch shows and movies without viewing commercials at all
  • Spot advertising messages when you see them: you could make it a game with your friends to call out any advertising messages when you come across them
  • Learn about advertising tricks: understand how much bodies get edited on advertisements to promote products (the ‘Dove evolution’ advertisement does a great job of showing these extensive changes) or how much products themselves get ‘touch-ups’, like putting Vaseline on hamburgers so they ‘shine’ better in ads
  • Use ad-blocking tools: for all your digital devices, download ad-blocking tools that can help block website ads
  • 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
  • Don’t fall for peer pressure: lots of advertisements build on unhealthy and unhelpful ideas of what makes someone ‘beautiful’ or ‘popular’ – know that you do not need to buy certain gadgets or visit certain restaurants to be interesting, cool, or beautiful