To see ourselves as others see us

Something new to worry about – what do the targeted ads which surround the page when you are using your social media site of choice, say about you? Summoned as they are to be appropriate to your status, location and which other websites you have been browsing, is this now the truest picture we have of our lives?

(A straw poll of the FirstWord office shows we are seen to be in need of debt consolidation, loans, weight loss tips, cheap sofas and baby equipment…)

Appropriately in the week of Robert Burns’ birthday (the man to write the immortal lines “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!”), targeted ads have caused an outbreak of status anxiety in China.

The popular WeChat chat app sold advertising space for the first time, and users found themselves split into three groups – one which saw an advert for BMW, another which got an ad for a phone company and a third who were shown Coca-Cola advertising.

“Even Tencent [the owner of WeChat] has discovered that I can only afford Coke and that I’ll never in my life drive a BMW,” one user complained bitterly, according to the FT.

While paid advertising is an entirely separate thing to content marketing, it’s an interesting question for everyone who owns a website – do you want to show your customers and readers a true reflection of themselves or do you want to make them feel good by, for example, offering advertising space to more aspirational brands or in content terms, publishing articles and images about more aspirational subjects? Is there a value in honesty, ie. your customers probably do want to see the latest offers at Lidl, or do we all want to be flattered that we are seen as Waitrose types?

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