Clicks, Cookies, and Conundrum – The Sneaky Tactics of Targeted Advertisement and Dilemmas

Raising awareness about the product by the company or brand is an essential feature in the Business World. This helps the product to reach the ears of the public, yet at the same time creates the intention within the minds of the public to consume the product, thus making the customer. As Humans started to evolve, the requirement for advertisements also started to expand. During the 1900s, companies to understand Consumer Behavior used to conduct surveys through various departments.

With the arrival of social media, the concept of observing behavior became a bit easier. Now, companies can observe, analyze, and interpret consumer behavior through the social media algorithm which helps them to understand as well as help in advertising. The Corporations of social media track the user’s every activity through its web and mobile phone. But even though such practices are being practiced, this led us to question the very important aspect which is whether these companies are implementing the advertising ethically. Ethics are often considered a general rule followed by society. If one has to look at the origin, it has been observed that many laws have been formed due to morality and ethics. In this article, we will look at how consumers are targeted for the advertisements, what will be contributed as ethical advertisement as well as its critical examination, and how they are examined by the diverse media.

Evolution of Advertisement

Advertising was always considered a part of civilization. Being one of the oldest professions for marketing our body to discover the fire, advertisement began. Though no exact time could be stated when the advertisement became a routine part of society, it has incorporated itself into Homo sapiens. Earlier, an advertisement was conducted verbally, but later humans found carving on the stall an easier and more effective method to advertise their product. The first handwritten advertisement can be traced back to 3000 BC in Egypt. The handwritten advertisement still plays a pivotal role in various print media.

Though the concept of advertising remains the same, only the form of advertising has been changed. Earlier, in order to promote their products or advertisers used to carve on their stones or walls. With the arrival of the print media, Traders used copper plates and hung them in the marketplace to market their products. The Industrial Revolution led to the establishment of modern advertisement which we see today. It changed the journey of the Advertisement. By the beginning of the 20th Century, with the invention of radio and television, visual-audio forms of advertisement started to take place and by the late 20th century, World Wide Web took place, which change the experience of advertisement. Now, the advertisement which is being experienced by us is a Targeted Advertisement where the general public is targeted on the basis of the people’s interest.

Understanding Targeted Advertisement


To understand the targeted advertising one has to look at one of the common forms which was used was street or magazine advertising. In this, poster campaign found in the subways, print magazines were used to target the potential participants. Here, the advertisement is done to attract a particular group and audience and to turn them into customers. Advertisements are formed in such a manner that the people who have been targeted, their interest get matched. Now, this form of advertisement has been converted into an online form. In order to conduct such sites, Data has been used by these Big Corporations. 

As earlier discussed,  companies used to have research departments to identify as well as analyze consumer preferences, though this has changed with the introduction of the internet and the emergence of social media. Now, Advertisers are able to have access to all forms of anonymous data which can range from consumers’ marital status to financial status. Moreover, they are able to get to know the time they have spent on social media as well as able to analyze the psychological behavior of the consumers through the algorithm. This anonymous data is sold to various companies around the world, which they used to understand their consumers.

Balancing the Pros and Cons of Targeted Advertisement

Due to Technological advancements, Targeted advertising had helped companies to reach the right audiences at the right times. Though it has created huge impacts for the companies as well as consumers, who can find these companies with just a single click, yet at the same time it has led to questioning various issues.


  • Flexibility – With the emergence of Social media, there have been multiple ways through which prospects can target. They are age, gender, marital status, interest, etc. By dividing your audiences into various segments, it helps the message to reach the market more effectively as well as not affecting the interest of any groups. When you use this method, your message will be to the ones who are most likely to convert.
  • Cost Efficient – This goes along with Flexibility. Your money will be used more effectively if the people who are being targeted are already decided. The money will be spent on the group which matters to you the most. Moreover, in Marketing, budget plays a significant role. If the budget is tight, then this can be observed as one of the best marketing tools.


  • Narrow Mindedness – This is one of the Cons of Targeted Marketing or Advertising. Since the segmentation is done at a micro level, there are often times when marketers lose their sights on other works such as branding. There is a constant requirement to look at the other prospects of success. One needs to look at both type’s prospects i.e. cold, lukewarm audience as well as hot prospects.
  • What is shown? – If the Advertisement contains sexually offensive, recent elements, etc., then the public might show outrage at such an advertisement. Moreover, it is not necessary for companies might obtain all information furtherance to which they might violate the privacy policies. There can also be circumstances where certain advertisements might receive unpredictable responses from the user.

How does India deal with Targeted Advertisements?


Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution protects and guarantees freedom of speech but it also defends the right of an individual to listen, read and receive. In one of the landmark cases called Tata Press Ltd. vs. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (1995), the court upheld that the rights of the advertisers cannot be denied by creating a monopoly that is in favor of the Government. It can only be restricted on the grounds which are mentioned in Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution. This has indirectly put certain restrictions on the government to intervene. Thus, making the advertisers exercise their freedom of speech and expression more freely.

Now these advertisements have been turned into online forums which have been thriving these days. Even if we look at the newspapers, only 60-70% of the news has been preoccupied, while the rest has been covered with advertisements of products, notices given by the government, vacancies for the Job, etc. Moreover, smartphones which stay with us every day, constantly keep us updated on products, and opportunities by constantly popping out advertisements, when we are using an application. 

Though it has been noticed that there is an absence of any uniform advertising regulation or agency. While some legislation has been considered weak. Moreover, Certain Legislations which has been described under has been violated on every single website you may have visited: 

  • There have been many websites or online platforms which has been advertising products that might be harmful to young people, thus violating the Young Person (Harmful Publication) Act. 
  • Indecent Depiction of women, or advertisements related to drugs, and magic remedies are one of the few violations which has been conducted by online publishers. This is clearly a violation of the acts such as the Indecent Representation of Woman (Prohibition) Act, 1986, and the Drug and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954. 

Though, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1996, has put certain limitations with regard to the advertisement conducted by Political parties. This has been after the Cambridge Analytics scandal which happened during the 2016 elections. This showed us how Targeted advertising could sabotage the general election if it is not conducted with proper vigilance.


With the rise of technological advancement, data collection has become much easier than before. Earlier, companies conducted this research through various departments, now the scenario has changed. Now, by just analyzing the algorithms of the particular individual, one could tell their marital status to their financial status, as well as their particular interests. This led to the evolution of the Targeted Advertisement.

Though Targeted Advertisement emerged in the print media it was revolutionized with the emergence of the Internet. Target Advertising can be defined as advertisements that have been specifically formed to target specific customers. Though it has created a lot of benefits to the users as well as companies it was still set by certain cons. Moreover, Targeted advertising has also been subjected to a violation of certain provisions in India, thus encouraging the legislation to work on a uniform structure for Advertisement.


Submitted by Kanishka Singh.