Native ads are targeting your teens

Wishbone–a visual voting app–uses native advertising to surreptitiously target girls and young women between the ages of 13 and 25.

Quite simply, the app puts two pictures side by side, and visitors vote on the picture they like better. So in the example here, the app asks “Batman or Captain America?” However, you can’t help but notice that it is also all about the Minions.Wishbone3

Now is this an ad? I don’t know. But neither do the teenage girls (the site is 91% female) that are spending time voting on the site.

So what’s the issue?

An article in Ad Exchange noted, “Two million users engaged with the Taco Bell content [voting if they wanted to spend $1 or $5 for breakfast]. A separate campaign for Victoria’s Secret’s Pink line generated more than 1.5 million opens and a 26% click-through rate.” And, because the app is so popular they generate 25 million votes per day–that’s an awful lot of free market research.

As I discuss in my book, Black Ops Advertising, marketers are finding evermore clever ways to put branded content in front of us without us knowing we are being sold. In the case of Wishbone, we might think this is not a major issue. After all, it’s just a couple of pictures. What difference does it make if I vote for KFC chicken over McDonald’s McNuggets? Or, if your daughter likes Kim’s hair long versus short?

The difference is that the user has supplied important marketing research to the advertiser. Click on KFC, and you can be sure that the cell phone will be retargeted with ads to visit the local chicken joint, as will any computer or tablet associated with the account.

For marketers, this app is incredibly clever: it’s crowdsourced A/B testing combined with access to important market research on a key advertising demographic. For consumers, the benefits are not so clear cut.