Digital Advertising: Friend or Foe?



Apps like Instagram and Facebook help companies create targeted ads based on algorithms to help sell products to consumers.

Social Media is everywhere. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok seem to rule the phones of Gen-Z. But what some users are unaware of is that many apps track behavioral data and sell them to online companies, who then create targeted ads for consumers to buy products on their websites.

“It feels like I can’t scroll on anything without there being an ad every five seconds,” Kenzie Heusinger, senior, said.

Nicholas Schueller, Contemporary Issues teacher said, “I think a lot of companies really benefit from social media addiction among the younger generation of people, especially because they can easily throw all of these ads in front you whenever they want, and with these personalized algorithms, it makes it you so much more vulnerable to buy thing constantly.”

Even if you aren’t immediately influenced by the ad, Schueller still believes that consumers are still vulnerable to its effects.

“Honestly I think that for a lot of people, they aren’t seeing these ads on TikTok or Instagram and thinking, ‘Wow that ad made me really want to buy this product!’ I think it’s more passive than anything, which almost feels really manipulative,” he said.

Schueller believes that the government needs to enforce laws and regulations to prevent these manipulative tactics that social media platforms and third-party sellers use, and their ability to sell data.

He added, “There is nowhere in the Constitution that explicitly says that you have a right to privacy; however, privacy is an essential part of American Society; it’s an implied right. These companies need to be forced to be upfront about what they’re really doing, because I feel like if a lot of people were actually aware, many would choose to opt out of social media.”

However, according to Brandn Lindsay, Marketing Teacher, it should fall on the consumer to be aware of the terms and conditions of these apps.

“I believe the laws that govern current marketing practices and consumer rights for brick-and-mortar businesses extend to social media and digital marketing, sure. Consumers are agreeing to the policies and the terms of the social media accounts that they create; therefore, and in my opinion, I believe businesses have a right to post an ad that will eventually be viewed by a consumer on that platform, the same way a business has the right to post a sign on their brick and mortar storefront that will eventually be viewed by passers by,” Lindsay said.

When it comes to the amount of information companies have on consumers, Lindsay believes that it is justified because in-person retail does the same thing, just using different tactics.

“I believe the current rights of brick and mortar businesses to know my personal information also extend to online businesses and the way they engage with their consumers. As a consumer, if I’ve made a conscious decision to enroll in a loyalty program at a grocery store by providing my information (name, address, phone number, email), I have agreed to allow that store to contact me, by name, through mail at my home, a call on my phone, or an email. Additionally, if I use a debit card or credit card at a store, I know that they have tracked what I purchased, what my card number was, and how much I spent.”, says Lindsay.

Although, for the target market, Gen-Z, the opinion isn’t exactly the clearest.

Heusinger said, “I mean, I did sign up for these things with my email, and phone number, so I feel like it’s kind of a given that they might use that information, but it’s also really annoying because the whole point behind social media should be just to see what your friends are up to, not to be sold something all the time.”

But do social media ads influence her shopping in any way? Heusinger said, “Of course. The ads themselves are really annoying, but when influencers I like are sponsored by these different products it definitely works on me.”

But Heusinger won’t be switching to strictly online shopping anytime soon.

“I mean online shopping is super convenient, but honestly I still prefer in person shopping, especially when it comes to clothes. It’s such a hassle to return clothes online.”