By now, most everyone has had some experience with the phenomenon that occurs when, for example, you’re telling a friend that you need a new pair of sneakers and then find that every single advertisement you get is for Nike or Adidas. However, these advertisements aren’t only for goods or services. People also get plenty of advertisements for what to watch.
A few weeks ago, I thought that everyone was getting ads for the upcoming Netflix show, The Chair. The show stars Sandra Oh, who plays the first woman of color to become the chair of the demanding, yet failing, English department at a major university. The show sounded perfect, but when I asked other people about it, they had never heard of it. I was baffled, bewildered and a bunch of other synonyms for “confused”, until it dawned on me: I was the ideal viewer of the show. Not only did I major in English when I was in college, but I recently watched Grey’s Anatomy (in which Sandra Oh plays a major role for the first ten seasons) and, as a person who hates any form of suspense, looked up just about every episode and character I saw. Having spent the last four years researching plenty for my English degree, and the last six months researching plenty about Grey’s Anatomy and its cast, of course I would get advertisements for a show that marries the two.
I’m not the only one who has recently experienced these television-related advertisements, too. Recently, our boss, John Boyanoski, asked if we had heard of the upcoming EPIX show Chapelwaite, an adaptation of the prequel to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Just like I experienced with The Chair, no one else had heard of Chapelwaite. As it turns out, John had been searching Chapelwaite every so often for the last few years to see if an adaptation of it was in the works. When it finally happened, he was the first to know about it.
So how do these providers know who would enjoy what show? When people make certain searches or view certain links, advertisers are able to keep track of it using cookies. This information is then sold to other advertisers so that you receive the most personalized ads possible.
Of course, you can disable cookies on some sites so that your information is not collected if you would rather, and there are definitely some ethical questions that could be raised on the selling of people’s information so that they will receive advertisements they’re more likely to click on, but maybe we’ll get to those once we work through our list of perfectly tailored TV suggestions.