Why do ads follow you on the internet

You just searched for the jeans on Amazon and now you’re being shown jeans everywhere.

If you are not a digital marketer, then it’s some kind of magic to you. I remember once my dad saying that he wanted to buy a vacuum cleaner and everywhere he is seeing that – on different websites, youtube, his exercise app, etc. And he feels like everybody is telling him to buy it, even though he has not said anything to all websites that he wanted to buy a vacuum cleaner.

Hardly my innocent father knew that there are 2 things on the internet – ads and organic content.

Let’s go back to how it all began. Imagine you’ve just logged into Facebook. You would indeed be uncomfortable if every time you load a new page on Facebook you were asked to log back in again and again. Now imagine you’re on Amazon and you add something to your cart. Wouldn’t it be annoying if it disappeared as soon as you click on another product? 

Credits: lifewire

How frustrating these scenarios would have been for you? It would have have taken a hell out of us.

The reason you don’t face these problems is because of cookies

Cookies give your web browser memory. This memory allows them to remember your login information. So that every time you click from one friend’s profile on Facebook to another, you are not asked to log in again. This memory allows them to remember that you have added something to your cart even while you’re browsing other products on other pages of Amazon. 

And cookies are also the reason why if you just searched for T-shirts on Amazon, you are shown ads while scrolling on Instagram.

Cookies are basically a string of numbers and letters – A simple code that websites save on your browser every time you visit their website.

So when you visit Amazon it saves the cookie in your browser. Then when you open Facebook, Facebook can see that cookie in your browser and show you ads on the basis of your browsing behavior on Amazon. 

To put this in context, imagine if you’re a regular customer in a restaurant and the waiter remembers your favorite drink and your favorite seat. That restaurant can make a lot of money by sharing that information with other restaurants. And other restaurants will be willing to pay for it so that they can make your experience at their restaurants better. This is exactly how a large portion of Google and Facebook ads work and that is the exact reason why a large number of websites throw up a pop-up asking you to accept cookies every time you visit them. 

Cookies were initially designed to allow one website to remember your browsing information for your next visit to that same website. Over the years this is been exploited and your browsing information is being shared among various websites all across the internet. 

Cookies used within the same websites are actually quite helpful. For example, when you visit a news website those cookies will remember your preferred language so that if you selected English, the next time you log back on to that website you will be able to consume your news in English. 

But with the growth of digital ads and the need for personalized ads, in particular, these cookies are being used for a lot more than just the user’s convenience. Retargeting cookies will allow web pages to leave a cookie or code on your browser such that if you drop it off before making a purchase it we tell Google ad network to show you that product again and again. So when you visit other websites you will see Google display ads for that product.

Yes, these ads are quite annoying.

If you look at it in an offline context, it’s like you visited a shoe store, browse a little, and left the shoe store without buying anything. But as soon as you leave, someone starts stalking you, following you around everywhere you go, pestering you to buy the shoes.