Ever notice as soon as you search for something online, or click "Like" on a Facebook post, you suddenly start seeing ads for those very same things? It's called targeted advertising and it happens when websites collect your surfing history and use it to send you ads about things they think you'll be interested in - and maybe even buy.
There's an arms race among targeted advertisers to try to guess your interests based on the pages you visit or the terms you search. Some people may even think it's a little creepy the way targeted advertising can get into your head and begin trying to sell you products and services.
But trust me, it's all due to clever little computer formulas called algorithms that can predict your interests based on your Internet habits.
However, what if a targeted ad knew things about your life that can't be accessed online? I'm talking about deep, personal things that only your closest friends and family know.
That's the idea behind one elaborate and hilarious Facebook prank between roommates.
Imagine this: You're a sword swallower, but you gag every time you try to swallow a pill. A little ironic, no?
That's the case for the prank's victim. He can easily handle a 26-inch sword in his throat, but struggles taking everyday vitamins and basic pills like aspirin.
So you can imagine his surprise when he came across this very specific and very targeted ad on Facebook:
Rightfully so, the roommate freaked out and began telling his roommate about it on Facebook, not knowing his roommate was the one behind it all.
But wait, there's more ... The victim's roommate wasn't done yet.
Understandably, the roommate was starting to get pretty paranoid at this point. So the prankster decided he had gotten him good enough.
Finally, the secret was revealed.
This prank is hilarious, but how was it pulled off?
The prank's pioneer is an Internet marketer and detailed the prank process on his blog. He says:
I was experimenting with different ways to use Facebook’s Custom Audience targeting and having quite a bit of success. I was using a list of about 10,000 people and getting some of the highest click-throughs I had seen in a long time. Being a fan of the MythBusters where they believe that anything worth doing is worth overdoing – I asked myself how I could take this to the next level. I realized that stepping things up a notch was actually stepping them down a notch in this case and I asked how targeted I could make my audience. I said to myself, “What if I only had like five people in an audience? What if I only had one person in an audience? … I should test this … I should test this on my roommate.”
So, within Facebook, he was able to create a custom audience of one for his targeted ads using only his roommate's email address provided on his Facebook page. The audience was labeled "My Roommate" and the campaign was called "Payback."
Pretty clever if you ask me.