The Benefit of Big Data and Ad Targeting

I needed socks, so I ended up browsing at my local Fred Meyer’s clothing section. While browsing, I decided to take a shot at what their plus size area might be. Lo and behold, it was 2-3 times the size of Target’s. There were lots of cute things, including summer wear, swimsuits, and outerwear. They even had bras in my size. I got a bra that I’m rocking today. It’s soft and supportive, with a subtle leopard print. It wasn’t any cheaper than my usual LB bras, but it was hella convenient to pick up bras along with a roasted chicken and veggies!

A friend was talking about the Marvel themed collection Her Universe is doing for Hot Topic, and I lamented that it will likely not be in my size. At which point, she linked me that Her Universe does plus sizes and Hot Topic even does plus sizes now.*

I realized that I’ve put myself into some ruts, and I’ve gotten in the habit of not bothering to check for places to have my size. What’s more, I’ve accepted that many stores (Target and Old Navy, for example) have so-called “normal sizes” that actually will fit me, which is annoying and crazy. Buzzfeed did a video of women trying on pants in the same numeric size from a few different retailers to illustrate how useless sizing is these days for women, and it’s getting that way for men, too. Pants in DH’s numeric size end up fitting wildly differently from various brands, which is frustrating to both of us, since I frequently shop for him. But, this is a tangent. 🙂

All of us in the fatosphere have heard the tired trope of retailers claiming their plus size offerings got no interest, hence relegating them to online or reducing their in-store offerings (Target and Old Navy, again, for example). When asked why they didn’t advertise the sections or availability, they claim that doing so would turn off their non-plus customer base. As much as we fat women hate this claim, there is data to support it, and it’s an unfortunate consequence of the anti-fat bias that is out there.

But, here is the rub. That excuse doesn’t hold water now. I shop at Fred Meyer regularly. I have shopped at Hot Topic. I was a former customer of Torrid. All of these brands should be marketing to me, as an identified fat woman, to tell me that they offer my size, that they have a solid plus size collection. How do they know I’m a fat woman? Well, here’s the thing. Facebook knows. I’m pretty sure Google knows. I know Amazon knows. They know based on what I read, what I search for, and what I buy.

This is “big data”.

I love it when you call me "Big Data".
I love it when you call me “Big Data”.
The more that advertisers are able to gather and understand each of us, the more they can tell us about products we want. Consequently, the less that they end up telling us about products we don’t want. Ultimately, advertising becomes more efficient, which reduces the budget needed for it, which may help prices stay flatter over time. That’s all thanks to the collection of data by companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, and yet that very same data collection is something we inherently abhor, to the point of demanding “privacy theater” that is ultimately meaningless as well as ultimately not beneficial to any of us.

So, then, where does a line actually get crossed? That is debated constantly. Some people would rather that advertisers know nothing; in fact, that seems to be the prevailing view.

There are hundreds of thousands of people that visit casinos every year and never get a player’s card, or, if they have one, they don’t put it into machines. Why? Paranoia, ultimately. Fear. And by doing this, those customers miss out on offers from casino marketing that are often incredibly valuable. Even if you go to Vegas once for fun and blow a small amount while there, having a card inserted may mean you get discounted “casino rates” on rooms in the future. It may get you a free drink or two.

To me, the question is what is the motivation. Just like in Survivor, you can always (and only) trust those whose interests align with your own. But, if you’re hiding behind the illusion of privacy, first, be aware that it’s an illusion, and second, recognize what you’re giving up by doing so. If you don’t like seeing ads that annoy you, consider the main way that those ads could be better. Be cautious about the data you release, certainly, but release the data that ultimately benefits you.


More than normal, my disclaimer applies here. My views are mine. They don’t represent any past, present, or future employer.

* For a long time, Hot Topic had a plus size line at Torrid shops. I believe they sold off Torrid to another line, which may be why they expanded their own line. I was initially a fan of Torrid, but it got to a point (before the sale) where things were cheaply made and way overpriced. That may not be true anymore; I haven’t been back inside one of their stores in over 5 years. I do know they’re probably the only place that frequently offers sexy and on-trend Halloween costumes for fat women that they can try on and confirm fit before buying. (And yes, lots of places offer costumes in sizes they say are plus but the reality of the fit is that plus ends up being a size 12-14, maybe a 16-18.)

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