I have a friend named Liz. I worked on a show with her a few years ago; shortly thereafter, she moved to Washington DC to get her MFA in acting, and she’s been primarily based there ever since. Earlier this year, she was cast in a small DC theater’s contemporary version of The Trojan Women – that Euripides classic of political theater about the horrors of war. She posted some promotional pictures of herself and her castmates on Facebook one day. I clicked on them, gave my friend a silent “way to go!” for living the actor’s dream, and promptly went about my business.
From that moment forward, for a good two months thereafter, not a day went by when I didn’t then see an ad for The Trojan Women. Mind you, I live several hundred miles from Washington DC, and have therefore yet to make regular theatergoing in that city a habit. Despite not being the target audience, though, the online banner ads followed me everywhere online, regardless of the site’s content. Checking out articles about upcoming Broadway shows on Playbill? There was the banner ad for this DC production of Trojan Women. Heading over to CNN.com to get an update on the never-ending chain of lunacy that’s been the news this year? Banner ad for Trojan Women. Unwinding after a stressful day with a little Plants vs Zombies? Over where the zombies spawn – the banner ad for Trojan Women.
And though that show closed, other shows have continued to stalk me online. If I’ve clicked on an article about it, or if a friend is in it, or even if a friend has simply mentioned it in passing in an online conversation, the banner ads for that show take over any website I’m viewing.
I’m not a tech wiz, but I assume what’s going on is that this is specially customized advertising space. The clicks we make, the sites we visit, are all monitored, all catalogued and categorized. So when I navigate to a site, it makes a decision based on my prior browsing habits, Google searches, comments, and so on, and – hey, presto! – up pops an ad for The Trojan Women, several hundred miles away.
I don’t particularly mind having my browser history plumbed in this way; theater needs all the help it can get, and if these companies can afford whatever service provides this, more power to them. But obviously they’re not the only ones doing this; use of targeted ads like these by unscrupulous political groups are a large part of how we got in the current political state we’re in. And at the rate we’re going, we’ll need a lot more Trojan Women.