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How Online Ads Work

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A story is told of a lady who reported to the police a pair of shoe that was stalking her. The shoe kept following her to every website that she accessed. It would appear on the news website, in social media, blogs and every YouTube video that she watched. The shoe would show up in bright colors and blinking to draw her attention. To make it worse, the shoe was just her size and taste. It was after her by all means, and would still appear even if she switched browsers or computers. Her mind was haunted.

Welcome to the world of online advertisement. Unlike a few moons ago when advertisement was done on TV and targeted mass audience, today’s adverts have changed. They are highly targeted to reach a specific audience or person, and they appear to know the potential buyer. How does this work?

How they do it

As they say, in God we trust; everyone else bring data. Data is the main currency that is being used to deliver the online ads. Websites and companies work hard to know who you are and what you need. That is why we have services such as Google and Facebook offered for free, in exchange for the information about you that you give. This is the information that is later used against you, or for you.

Google knows who you are. You use their products such as Google Chrome browser, Google search, Gmail, YouTube and even the mother of all, Android. This means they can see online wherever you are. They know where you work, where you live, they see the places you visit and can tell the entertainment joint you spend every Saturday afternoon. This information is very useful to advertisers.

If an advertiser wants to reach to men aged 25-40 who live in Nairobi and love football, Google will deliver the ads just to those people. If the advertiser is interested in people who recently got married, Google knows them. If it is dog owners, Google knows them. If it is the people who love holidaying and traveling, Google knows who was in Maasai Mara last week and Amboseli last month.

The same thing works with Facebook. Facebook knows your likes and interests, and can tell who is likely to attend a music concert or buy a certain book. This is based on the information that you have given them, such as the post you like and pages you follow. If an advertiser wants to sell tickets for a play that will be aired in Mombasa and targets women who love poetry, Facebook and Google can deliver the advert to these people.

But there is another form of targeting that is very specific. If you visit a website, Google knows you are there, and from there it can keep showing you the ads from that website wherever you are. Remember the ads will keep following you in any place that shows ads, be it websites, apps and even YouTube channels. In Facebook, an advertiser can track you using your name, phone number or even email, and show their ads to you. If you go to Jumia and search for a certain shoe, you might start seeing the shoe advert on Facebook, because Jumia has asked Facebook to show you the shoe ad.

Do you see an ad you can relate to on this page?

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