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You may ask yourself, “Does my phone listen to me?” when you see advertising for something you were just talking (or thinking) about and think, “That’s creepy”, but I want to convince you that search engines most likely aren’t listening to or reading your mind. They’re using the algorithm and good research to find you. And you can use this knowledge to your advantage.

Good marketing and targeting start with solid research into the audience. When you see an ad that speaks to you, the marketing agency likely did a lot of research and testing to get past “the black box” and into your feed. 

What is The Black Box?

The black box concept is simple. We supply input into our advertising tools, the tools do their magic, and hopefully, the ad shows up in your feed. The problem with all advertising platforms is that we don’t really know what’s going on in the black box. We can make intelligent guesses, but we can only see the input, output, and whatever analytics they provide us.

Google updates its algorithm thousands of times a year, multiple times a day, so even if they would tell us what they do with your data, we’d be hard pressed to keep up. Assuming the rolling changes we see in other platforms are related to algorithm changes, it’s a constantly moving target.

The Common Affinity Audience

One of my favorite analytics to view is common audiences. Our tools can sometimes tell us that our target audience also shares an affinity for something outside of what we’re targeting them for. For example, years ago we were looking to target users who were struggling with eating disorders, but people rarely go about liking or promoting issues like eating disorders. How did we find them? A shared affinity for the movie “Twilight.” Once we started targeting users who liked that movie and fell into our demographic target, we were able to find other affinities that helped us to zero in on the group and made a huge success of that campaign.

Another common target that some of the platforms won’t let us target is homeowners. When I need to get my ads in front of people who own homes, I target users who like home improvement, yard work, decorating, etc. While this doesn’t rule out renters, it seeds my audience so that I can find other affinity groups to narrow my targeting when I collect the converters.

How Did My Phone Know What I Was Thinking?

You are inadvertently always providing data to the black boxes of the various advertising platforms. Clicked on an ad? You’re now an engaged shopper with an affinity for that product.


Watched a video ad instead of skipping? You’re now considered eligible for a view-through conversion. Carried your phone in with you at your favorite restaurant? You’ve told the algorithms through location data that you frequent that location.

When you combine the data collection, targeting, and the black boxes that process this data, you can’t beat the algorithm. It will find you and people like you if we ask it to and show you an ad.

How Do I Beat the Algorithm?

If you can’t beat them, join them. My advice as someone who appreciates good advertising is to lean into it. If you see an ad you like, click on it, let us know you do enjoy that product or service. Skipping or deleting an ad just confuses the black box and will be replaced with something else. The biggest benefit to being friends with the algorithm is that you’ll start seeing things you like instead of ads that feel disconnected or annoying.

The next time you hear someone say, “Does my phone listen to me?” you can explain that, in fact, it does. It “hears” your clicks and turns those into information the algorithm and advertisers can use to help you find out about products and services that are helpful to you.

If you’re struggling to reach your audience, Mediaura’s marketing team wants to meet with you and see how we can help boost your business. Contact us today.

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