Targeting ads

It’s a new year. Stay you.

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I see them when I scroll through Instagram or press “play” on another YouTube video. I hear them during podcast commercial breaks and then, occasionally, again, echoing in the back of my mind when I skip a workout or reach for another handful of chips.

Many of us have become so accustomed to what I’ve decided to call resolutions-related advertising that we may not notice it at all. However, that’s especially difficult around this time of year, when many people choose to make New Year’s resolutions.

It’s not the practice of goal-setting that bothers me, however. I like to plan things out, and I regularly set targets for myself in both my professional and personal life – but there seems to be an added pressure to do so at the beginning of a new year.

I don’t like to use sweeping terms like “the media,” especially when I’m talking about problematic behaviour. After all, I work in that generalized field. In this case, though, I’ll admit that “the media” can often turn New Year’s celebrations into a chore.

Around the end of December, it’s difficult to even log into Facebook without seeing news articles detailing advice for how to choose and then actually keep resolutions.

I clicked on one such article from The New York Times titled “Everyone’s Resolution Is to Drink More Water in 2020.” To my surprise, this story called into question the common belief that “hydration is the mark of a well-adjusted, successful person,” along with the flood of tweets on Jan. 1 that proclaimed users’ goals to drink more water in 2020.

However, I haven’t seen much media coverage this year about a similar social-media flood. In the first few days of January, I was home sick and midway through a YouTube marathon of Parks and Recreation clips when I spotted an ad for BodyFast, an intermittent fasting app.

When the same ad popped up later that day, I took a screenshot and decided to do so every time I saw any promotion for dietary supplements, workout plans or any other products seemingly designed to help people become “healthy” and achieve many of the most commonly made New Year’s resolutions.

I stopped two days later, because images of Dry January challenges, Weight Watchers systems and that notorious Peloton bike were taking up too much space on my phone. As a marketer, I can tell you the obvious: it makes sense to promote these products at a time of year when people are searching for ways to meet their goals.

But these ads can also promote feelings of shame, inadequacy and failure. They establish “ideal” body types, habits and timelines within which people should achieve New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve lived with eating disorders for more than a decade and ended up in the emergency room on two separate occasions last year after I took intermittent fasting too far and fell back on dangerous eating behaviours. Seeing those BodyFast ads reminded me both of those visits and the fact that I’m not currently dieting. Every time I saw that little green icon, I was tempted to fall back into what I know are unhealthy patterns.

It’s hard if not impossible to escape resolutions-related advertising, especially in a society where many of us rely on our phones and social media accounts to communicate. These videos, stills and graphics are pervasive and, in many cases, toxic.

These ads serve to sell specific goods, but they also convey other messages. They tell people that they shouldn’t be content with their bodies, minds and lifestyles. Everyone should always strive for more, whether that’s measured in terms of financial success, deadlift personal bests or inches off a waistline.

At the start of this decade, I made myself a promise. I wouldn’t set a New Year’s resolution, no matter how many ads tempted me to do so. Instead, I’m trying to do something that may actually benefit my health, well-being and sense of self-worth. I’m avoiding diets, exercise fads and water-tracking apps to give myself a break.

It’s only January, and this hasn’t been easy. Amid the onslaught of advertisements, I’ve found myself caught up in the idea of “getting fit” before a wedding I plan to attend this spring. Speaking of which, I have no doubt that I’ll see an influx of ads a few months from now, as promoters do everything in their power to convince folks like me that it’s crucial to prepare for “swimsuit season” and “wedding season.”

The entire advertising world won’t suddenly wake up tomorrow and realize that both the sheer volume and content of these promotions can be harmful. Even if they did, I doubt anything would change. So for now, I’m doing my best to ignore these ads, be comfortable with who I am and get back to watching Leslie Knope highlights.

Danielle Doiron is a writer, editor and marketer based in Winnipeg. She can’t eat wheat right now, so if you have any killer gluten-free recipes, send ‘em over.

Published in Volume 74, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 23, 2020)

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