I wanted to watch Imitation Game this week. I used Google to search (on desktop) for movie timings and reviews. I might have visited couple of sites to check out reviews and I checked out movie timings using Google's movie widget/carousel in search results. However, I didn't complete my ticket purchase. Later in the afternoon I was checking my Facebook on my phone and I got Imitation Game's trailer as "sponsored story".
I think digital advertising as a medium is finally maturing and we are seeing relevant ads that make sense. This example also highlights the power of cross-channel and multi-device targeting. This brings up the point -
How come Facebook knew that I was interested in Imitation Game?
1. I visited bunch of sites to check out reviews of Imitation Game on my desktop browser. One of these websites might have partnered with retargeting tools. These retargeting tools "cookied" me. Being cookied in this context means retargeting tools placed an anonymous cookie, which is nothing but small snippet of information that just makes note that I visited said website/product page.
2. The aforementioned tools have partnered with Facebook Exchange (FBX) and they alerted FBX that I was interested in Imitation Game.
3. I opened Facebook app on my phone and Facebook remembered that I was interested in Imitation Game. At the same time, marketing teams responsible for Imitation Game were running campaigns to promote movie using Facebook's newsfeed ads. Hence I received an ad about the movie.
I'm sure your first thought must be "yikes this feels like stalking". Let me tell you, there is absolutely zero human intervention in this process. All the exchange was anonymous. Privacy concerns are taken seriously by all the retargeting companies and lot of lawmakers across the world are figuring out laws/regulations that will allay privacy fears. However, if you prefer not to be "cookied" then you can disable cookies that track your preferences in your browser (e.g. in Firefox).
It also feels like playing the "imitation game" since marketers are trying to figure out what what ads are most relevant to you. I personally prefer relevant ads when compared to random junk ads.
Image Credit: Official Imitation Game Website