I heard something horrifying on the radio while driving to work yesterday morning. It was a documentary piece about advertising. I thought I'd hear about cunning and predation and I certainly did. I learned that the US Navy set up recruitment booths inside theatres when Top Gun was ruling the box office. Right inside the theatre to take advantage of the resultant desire of young men to be as cool as Lieutenant Pete Mitchell. Apparently applications increased a lot that year. That was certainly a smart move by the navy...but a little predatory as well, don't you think?
There were a few other examples of advertisers being in the exact right place at the exact right time (a tiny fly fishing company having a small article about its ground breaking lure in the Time magazine issue devoted to Marilyn Monroe just after her death received something like three million orders for their lures. They only had three employees at the time.) but the story that appalled me was about Target.
Advertisers consider new parents to be the ultimate demographic to win over. Consumers tend to change their buying habits during times of transition, such as graduating college, and if retailers can snag them during the transition, they will likely have gained a loyal customer which translates to increased profits. Having children is the biggest transition there is and new parents tend to buy a lot, making them very desirable bait. Target got to thinking, why wait until they have the child? How can we discover if they're expecting a child before any other retailer knows? Well, they figured out there are roughly thirty products that women tend to start buying in their second trimester; things like cotton balls, unscented lotions, supplements. By tracking a woman's purchases (stores know a frightening amount about us, and even things we haven't volunteered while chatting in the check out line) they were able to make a highly educated guess she was pregnant, and they would start sending her child-product specific advertising. In one case, a father berated a Target store manager for sending his 17 year old daughter fliers for baby products. The manager apologized profusely and even called the next day, which is when the father softened his attitude. Turns out his daughter was pregnant. He found out the good news via the junk mail.
After women began complaining about being targeted (by Target, haha), the company changed their tactics somewhat. They now send women with "I'm pregnant" shopping patterns flyers advertising lawnmowers, frying pans... and baby goods.