I’m listening to a podcast interviewing Neil Richards, the author of Why Privacy Matters. Richards makes a couple interesting points about the infamous example of Target figuring out which women were pregnant based on their purchase history.
First, pregnancy is a point at which women are open to trying new things. So if a company can get a woman to buy a baby stroller at their store, they may be able to get her to remain a customer for years to come. (Richards mentioned going off to college as another such milestone, so a barrage of advertising is aimed at first-year college students.)
Second, women understandably freaked-out over the targeted ads. So Target hid the ads in with irrelevant ads. They might show a woman ads for lawnmowers and baby wipes. That way the baby wipe ads didn’t seem so on-the-nose. The target audience would see the ad without feeling like they’re being targeted.
Just to be clear, I’m not writing this post to offer how-to advice for doing creepy advertising. The info here is presumably common knowledge in the advertising industry, but it’s not common knowledge for the public.