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Targeted ads divide culture

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The Oscars are coming up soon. March 4, apparently. I had to look it up. I had no idea when it might’ve been, and I was even thinking it might’ve already happened. I’m pretty sure other big annual award shows are already over. The Oscars are the last show right? I know the Golden Globes happened because Oprah’s speech was in the news. And I think I heard something about the Grammy’s, but I couldn’t tell you anything for certain.

In a similar vein, I keep forgetting that the Winter Olympics are happening right now. I don’t know what events have happened. For all I know, the United States has won zero gold medals, or maybe won every competition. Who’s to say? Probably the internet or the sports channels on TV.

But my point here is that I remember a time when I didn’t have to go actively looking for this kind of information, it was just everywhere. Award show buzz wafted through the air like a thick fog. Almost everything in public life was plastered with Olympic logos. But now, nothing. Why is that? Have these events been dwindled down to a fraction of their former significance, or I have I just somehow fallen so far out of the target demographic for these things that I naturally miss out on all the press.

Certainly the age of targeted advertising has had an effect on distribution of information even for these massive events. Surely big organizations hosting big-ticket happenings would also like to save money by advertising only to people who are likely to tune in. It especially makes sense for something like the Oscars which is more pitched at potential film snobs. But I’ve always been under the interpretation that the Olympics were supposed to appeal to everyone across the world. At least that’s the ideal that they espouse. But maybe the International Olympic Committee has become more pragmatic and accept that perhaps its audience is primarily sports enthusiasts.

Alternatively, events like the Olympics might just stick to their classic methods of advertising, and those methods are just ineffective at reaching a campus audience. Growing up, Olympic advertisements would be all over every channel on TV. But now I don’t watch anything on actual TV. There was always some Olympics-related thing on all the Coca-Cola cans, and there might still be, but A) we’re a Pepsi school now, and B) as far as I know, there’s only one vending machine on campus that dispenses cans.

It’s wild that it’s possible today to get by in everyday life without exposure to things that 10 years ago would’ve been impossible to miss. I only ever saw one commercial for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and I don’t even have AdBlock installed. The wonders of modern targeted advertisement technology!

Often conversations on this topic center around echo chambers and the distribution of fake news. But also consider the non-political ramifications of this practice: for better or for worse, we may be entering a post-zeitgeist era. There’s no real pop culture event that everyone tunes into. There are so many shows that folks can watch on their own schedules that there’s no fodder for “water cooler conversation.”

It seems that the creation of a world where every niche market is aggressively catered to has come at the cost of sacrificing any sort of unifying  cultural item.

mayo1@stolaf.edu