We’re becoming inured to seeing online ads that are targeted to our locations, our browsing histories, and maybe even our offline shopping behavior,, but is there a difference between advertising home theater systems to someone who has been searching for 80″ TVs and advertising online gambling services to people you’ve identified as having problems with gambling?
Narrowing it down
Gambling, like any other business, only works if you have customers. And, again like any other business, gambling outfits find customers through marketing.
But running ad campaigns can be expensive, with results that are scattershot at best. Facebook built its world-dominating business on hyper-targeted ads, after all, and by now basically every industry has turned to fine-tuned, highly-targeted advertising that tries to place itself in front of the most likely customers.
Why advertise to people who will never, ever be receptive to what you’re selling, the thought goes, when you can aim yourself directly at the most likely repeat customers?
That’s one thing when you’re, say, trying to sell shoes to people who bought your shoes before, or trying to sling something like cosmetics at a population like “women between 18 and 45 who live within 25 miles of New York City.”
But as the Guardian reports, it’s something else entirely when it means an industry like gambling can narrowly target a segment like recovering gamblers.
Data broker roulette
Just like every other industry, gambling outfits are using data brokers to learn what they want to know.
Information about potential customers comes from all corners and gets recombined in every possible way to narrow down the audience.
“Third-party data providers allowed us to target their email lists with precision,” a digital marketer told the Guardian. Low-income households in particular were susceptible to gambling houses’ advertising.
But advertisers can zero in on any demographic segment — “users who are on less than £25k a year [$32,000], own a credit card and have three kids,” as that same marketer told the paper — in order to increase the chances of a hit.
One of the segments gambling companies advertise to? People who have done it before but then stopped. Sure, some of those who no longer play may simply not have thought to — but some, as the Guardian notes, may well be recovering from a serious gambling problem and avoiding it on purpose.
The ads lapsed gamblers can receive are designed to hook them back in, the Guardian explains: sign up ads that get more enticing over time. One week, an ad might offer a £10 free bet, one industry source said, then up that to a £20 free bet in week two, £30 in week three, and ever onward. Those tacatics, a source told the Guardian, are “extremely effective.”
A global issue
While the Guardian specifically looked at advertising in the U.K. and British regulations, companies in the U.S. are almost certainly using similar tactics.
We are all basically walking dossiers of data points, at this stage; everything digital we interact with keeps a record, and most of those records are sold, traded, and repurposed in thousands of ways without our knowledge. Your “anonymous” data totally isn’t, and even when you don’t think you’re giving away any information, you still probably are.