Targeted advertising in magazines

Just how specific is targeted advertising in magazines these days?

I’ve subscribed to Wired for years, and a lot of the advertising seemed pretty much general for my demographic and interests. But lately, it seems a lot more specific than it’s ever been, kind of like ad tracking online.

For example, I’ve always gotten Patron tequila ads. After a recent trip to Louisville where I used my credit card at a couple of bourbon tours, I’m suddenly seeing bourbon adverts in my Wired.

I had my first child earlier this year, and the latest issue now had an ad for a local private school. I’ve never seen ads for local places in Wired, although I’ve seen ads targeted to my ZIP codes over the years (auto suppliers that typically don’t have national appeal).

I suppose it’s possible that, maybe, bourbon is become more common, and it’s a national ad. But the private school? Even if going to everyone in my state, I can’t imagine it would be cost effective. Most people who have first kids aren’t reading print magazines any more. I suppose it could be just my ZIP code, but it felt eerily personal.

And, these are bound pages, not loose inserts. Are magazine printers now able selectively include single, targeted pages into their huge industrial process these days? Or is this just Baader-Meinhof playing around with my mind?

In GQ, because I’m sure there’s a factual answer about the capabilities of magazine printers.

I have no experience of this in magazines, as I subscribe to none of them.
However, a couple of years ago I shopped at Target just about every week. Every month I got a sheet of coupons in the mail. I noticed pretty quickly that out of the 19 coupons in the mailer, 15 or more were for items I had bought during the preceding couple of months. This bothered me a bit, since the coupons were printed on a single sheet of paper, addressed to my name at my home address. (I have shopped at Target far less often over the last year or so, and the coupon mailers have stopped.)
I have always paid with my credit union issued Visa debit card. “It is to wonder.”

This is interesting- and also a little scary

That’s a really interesting observation.

I teach marketing / advertising these days & I’ve never heard of print magazines targeting so specifically. I’ve reached out to a couple of colleagues to see if they’ve heard of it.

I suspect that they are not targeting to you personally, but I think they may be targeting your geographic region. This very technically feasible in the age of digital printing. A custom regional issue can hit home subscribers and even regional retail stores easily. Financial feasibility would depend on how many incremental local advertisers they got for publishing an “NYC edition” for example. That would depend on how many readers are in a given geography.

Overall however, this is likely the Baader-Meinhof in your mind. Every magazine does extensive surveys of their readers and develops a reader profile which they use to sell their space to advertisers. I think you’re probably noticing ads that may have always been there for things like baby products & bourbon, but you’re now in the target. Previously you skipped over them. The credit card info etc, is likely coincidence and confirmation bias.

Lastly @ doreen
Re: Target store. I recall doing a business ethics case several years ago about targeting people like this. There was a big controversy at the time, I think a customer was suing Target. She was a teenager who was living at home and became pregnant. She had her own loyalty card for Target and they flagged her purchasing pregnancy testers, books on pregnancy etc. So they sent a “congratulations you’re expecting” coupon pack to her. The shit hit the fan when her religious parents saw the pack specifically addressed to her. She said she never gave Target permission to contact her and it was a violation of her privacy. I don’t recall exactly how it ended, but I think Target (an others) now make it very clear that they will use your info to proactively target you with offers.

I work at an ad agency, and while I’m not an expert on the ins and outs of magazine circulation, this is pretty much my understanding of it, too.

And, in the case of the ad for the private school, it may well be that Wired has a big enough subscription base in your region, and the demographics of that school’s student population (or, more importantly, the parents) line up closely enough to the Wired reader base, that the school felt running an ad in that regional printing made sense. Even if they knew that the vast majority of readers seeing the ad weren’t really in their target, if they only needed to get a couple of new students out of it, the ad still well might have made financial sense for them.

(Parenthetically: in the early 1990s, one of my former college roommates was an engineer at a company that made mainframe computers. One night, while watching a Chicago Bulls game on the local sports channel here, I saw an ad for one of his company’s products, which felt both very random, and a highly irrelevant venue for ads for mainframe computers. I gave my friend a call, and asked him about it – he told me that what had undoubtedly happened was that their sales group had identified one or two potential buyers here in Chicago, whom they knew were Bulls fans. So, they had specifically bought ad time during a basketball game, to reach a tiny number of specific people. :eek: )

In Spain, store coupons aren’t mailed; we get them from the store if we’ve got their card, whenever we buy something. The immense majority are for a different variety or brand of something you just bought: buy Frigo lemon sherbet, get a coupon for Magnum Almond Mini and one for Frigo apple sherbet.

Sounds like your own supermarkets use the same tactics minus giving them permission to do so when you sign up.

Grocery stores near me definitely target some of their e-coupons to your buying patterns, so you get better discounts on the stuff you buy.
Nothing too sophisticated - when we bought diapers before a visit from our grandson we got diaper e-coupons prioritized for months afterward.

That story is in the article - but they didn’t do the tracking based solely on pregnancy tests and books. That’s actually what makes it kind of scary- of course, a store could figure out that I was pregnant if after buying a pregnancy test or two I started buying pregnancy books.

The cues are much more subtle - like switching to unscented lotion and soap. They could find those correlations because they track the purchase history of each customer in their discount/loyalty program, and find out how people’s purchase pattern changed a few months before the more obvious changes like buying diapers.

Target’s big mistake was not realizing that people get creeped out by this. So now they do targeted (heh) advertising that doesn’t look like targeted advertising. An expectant mother will start getting a different version of their catalogs and flyers in the mail that has more baby products in it, but not so much that it’s obviously a “baby catalog.” They’ll just think “wow, I never realized Target sold so much baby products, I guess I never noticed because I ignored baby product ads before.”

I wish I could remember which book I read this in…

ETA: I think I read this in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Great book.

And of course that book was the source of the excerpt published in The Sunday New York Times Magazine, and linked to in the third post in this thread.

I get the print Wired. What issue had the private school ad, and whereabouts was it? I want to check to see if it’s in mine too!

I had a trial sub to Wired last year. 6 months I think.

Boy, was I not the target demo for those ads. Even if I was a multi-millionaire I still wouldn’t buy that overpriced “prestige” crap.

(The ads were the biggest difference from the Wired I remember when it first came out. OTOH, the design was still the same. I.e., awful choices of colors, fonts, etc. that made the articles unreadable.)

I don’t know if they do this in the printed ads in magazines, but they can certainly vary the inserted cards (‘blow-ins’) that are inside the magazine to match targeted subscribers.

And it is easily done on individually mailed pieces. I did this over twenty years ago for political sample ballots. They were printed customized to the voter, showing the endorsed candidates that would be on that voters ballot, down to the most local school or park districts. And that could vary from one side of the street to the other. We also had printed on them the address of the voters polling place, and a special note if it had moved since he voted in the last election. And that was with the technology of 20 years ago – I imagine much more could be done now.

Target has one of the most sophisticated advertising programs in the world

This was discussed in a book about target the actual version was this :
They did send out one of the targeted coupon books with a bunch of baby supply ads to a teenage and the dad went in to the target and threw a huge tantrum with the manager

accusing them of promoting pregnancy and all the usual histrionics and the manager threw up his hands and took them off the mailing list
Well about 3 days later said dad came back in the store and apologized to the store because yes she was pregnant and "there were things going on " he didn’t know about because mom and daughter were buying the prenatal baby items on the fly and the program picked that up
Targets response was to randomize in more ads to disguise the fact they knew what you were buying

Target has one of the most sophisticated advertising programs in the world

This was discussed in a book about target the actual version was this :
They did send out one of the targeted coupon books with a bunch of baby supply ads and the dad went in to the target and threw a huge tantrum with the manager

accusing them of promoting pregnancy and all the usual histrionics and the manager threw up his hands and took them off the mailing list
Well about 3 days later said dad came back in the store and apologized to the store because yes she was pregnant and "there were things going on " he didn’t know about because mom and daughter were buying the prenatal baby items on the fly and the program picked that up
Targets response was to randomize in more ads to disguise the fact they knew what you were buying

It was the one three issues ago, starting with the one that just arrived a few days ago.

Damn! :eek:

With a printed magazine distributed to thousands of people, sounds like confirmation bias.

We recently had a pretty neat machine learning course at work over a few months of weekly lunch sessions, and the professor had loads of cool examples, including the example you provided–the lotion and supplements and such. It’s probably not some person looking at the data and crafting clunky rules like “lots of baby books = pregnant” but these days it would be all about machine learning, producing models that predict certain buying patterns uncannily based on things that wouldn’t necessarily make sense to a casual observer.

These techniques are usable in many diverse areas–one particularly controversial one would be medicine: They can produce models that predict various conditions and diseases, but the consequences of mistakes are far more than in the retail coupon world, so even if the model predicts better than a human, acting on the prediction is not as obvious a choice as it would seem.

I looked through issues 8, 9 and 10 and didn’t see any ads for private schools. I did see ads for Michigan tourism (I’m in Ohio).

I saw bourbon and VSOP cognac, expensive watches, LG appliances, and lots and lots of business services.