Okay, kids, time for a singalong! It’s to the tune of “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens. Except my version goes like this:
“I’m being followed by a laughing cow,
Laughing cow, laughing cow-ow!”
The laughing cow of whom I speak is none other than the Babybel cow. And she’s following me across the web by popping up as a display ad on website after website after website. (Apparently she’s good at this sort of thing. Witness how she wears earrings of herself wearing earrings of herself wearing earrings of herself ad infinitum, world without end, amen.)
Why is she web stalking me? Well, I typed “Babybel” into Google and the rest is history.
Now, I have nothing against Babybel cheese. As a child I was fascinated by the Laughing Cow, who I always thought was a shining example of what would result if you cross-bred cows and humans. But, my dear cow, I have become weary of seeing your smiling face all over the place.
I found myself wondering why I’m getting ad-bombed by Babybel but not other terms I’ve searched for or sites I’ve visited. Off I go to Almighty Google, and my search brings me back to…Google. And its subsidiaries AdSense, AdWords, DoubleClick…have I missed anyone?
A website can choose to partner with Google so that visitors to the site will see either content-based ads or interest-based ads. The former is determined by the content on the website, the latter by each user’s interests, which are based on their browser cookies.
A click on the Ad Preferences page displays your interests. Deleting the food and drink preference eliminated the cow. You can edit your categories, letting you essentially create your own digital Picture of Dorian Grey. The real you who’s reading about termites, when the next Halo is coming out and which celebrities have cellulite is hiding behind a curtain, while the you being presented to advertisers is going to hike through the Alps while listening to Offenbach and learning quantum physics.
The Laughing Cow may be pursuing me, but I am the one having the last laugh. The reason I searched for Babybel cheese in the first place was not because I’m a potential customer but merely that I was working on a diet book and needed to fact-check Babybel product information. It just goes to show technology may know what we’re doing, but it doesn’t know why. And it doesn’t anticipate our next moves. I may have become a loyal cheese customer who is now saying “Yes, thank you, your cheese is wonderful, and I’ve bought loads of it. How about offering me a suitable accompaniment, such as wine and crackers?” But the cow goes on and on.
Now I just have to figure out why the “Lose the Flabby Belly” ad with the perpetually shrinking and expanding pooch refuses to go away.