Ad-targeting fightback: 4 fast steps saving me money

‘Unsubscribe’, ‘hide’ and Brave are saving my brain and my budget.

Compilation image of hands holding money and Nicole with a laptop to represent savings
Saving money is a top priority for many Aussies amid the cost-of-living crisis. (Source: Getty/supplied)

Saving money is not only vital right now, it’s also addictive – hello dopamine – and, therefore, predictive.

That means that if you mostly shop online, your email inbox, social media feeds, and even your browser home page all act as a tunnel of temptation. That's because what you crave most, or researched or purchased last, is incessantly served up wherever you ‘surf’.

So, this week, I put a stop to it in four fast steps. Because, if you reduce the marketing content you consume, you may well reduce what you actually consume.

Also by Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

My 4 steps to savings (and online sanity)

Step 1: End expensive EDMs

My quest to stop the ‘sell’ began with my inbox because the number of enticing emails had become extreme. All electronic direct mail (EDM) – marketing spam – must by law have an “unsubscribe” button at the bottom so you can remove yourself from that specific distribution list. They might make you jump through a few hoops – say, click a survey first – but it’s a simple process of saying goodbye to the merchants with your address.

Step 2: ‘Tone down’ social media targeting

This is a bit more difficult because social media’s underlying premise is to be the ‘matchmaker’ between companies and consumers. On Facebook, for instance, you can block particular advertisers. You just tap the ellipsis (the three dots) at the top right of an advertisement and select “show less” or “hide ad”.

And look what happened when I clicked: “Why am I seeing this ad?” Apparently, the company bought my data more than a year ago and then matched me to my Facebook profile.

Compilation of three screenshots from Facebook to show how ads target your data, and how to remove them and save money
(Source: supplied)

What you cannot usually do on social media is turn off advertising: this is the revenue model for most platforms.

Take Facebook again. Although you can ask it not to serve you ads based on its partners, the social media giant specifically says: “The ads you see may still be based on your activity on our platform.

“They may also be based on information from a specific business that has shared a list of individuals or devices with us, if we've matched your profile to information on that list.”

Step 3: Brave up your browser

You can get far more retail-robust with browsers, however.

A browser called Brave in the default setting uses a search engine called DuckDuckGo. The browser will block tracking and ads. The addition of DuckDuckGo gives a further layer of privacy because it doesn’t remember what you type from one search to the next.

Here is a real-life example of the trackers and ads blocked – so, spending suggestions stopped – over several years.

Screenshot of Brave browser
(Source: supplied)

On Google, you can also turn off personalised ads – it has a really comprehensive permissions-control page. But bear in mind that Google has crazy-invasive search tracking otherwise, not just what you type but even how fast and your keystroke behaviour.

Step 4: Turn off app notifications

You can easily do this in your phone settings and it means that, rather than allowing apps to regularly flash up sales and ‘saving’ inspiration, you only go to them when you purposefully want something. It’s simple but potentially powerful for your bottom line.

My progress removing all the prompts

It wasn’t quick but I soon expect to start saving - not just more money but time. Don’t get me started on the likely one-off, bigger-ticket purchases that some vendors continue to target you for after the fact. One company just suggested I weirdly buy my Dad a mattress… for Father’s Day. Unsubscribed.

Then there are the sites that, if they convince you to cave and click, obscure the actual product with spinning, flashing and strobing possible (improbable) discounts. A clock is likely also ticking. Closed [insert eye roll emoji] and blocked.

And what is with the merchants that direct you through to an entirely different product than the one that caught your attention… or even to a home page? All personalised preferences deleted, so no more.

But there is a downside to deleting these preferences: Advertisements will continue but, as Google puts it: “You may see fewer ads for products and brands that interest you.”

So, I am now getting a solid stream of pitches for finance products (coincidentally apt) and Russian brides (not so much). These are apparently advertisers that target everyone.

Irrespective, reducing the electronic economic noise has cleared significant cognitive clutter – I can almost hear the sound of spending silence.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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