I don’t mean to brag, OK, but I know my way around the internet. Although I’m a Gen Xer, I was born right at the tail end of that slot (you know the one! It was the part of the generation where there was a dotcom bust just as we entered the job market and then a badly-timed housing boom just before we got ourselves back on our feet again so we got screwed not once but twice!).
My age also puts me in the bracket — just! — of “digital native”. I had a mobile phone when I was a teenager. We had email accounts at school. I was buying and selling on eBay before PayPal existed; when the only option available to buy high-cost items was to send a cheque and cross my fingers and pray not to be ripped off (I still can’t believe I ever received that Dell laptop, quite honestly). I banked online from the moment it became a thing.
I’m computer literate, is what I’m saying. I know all the tricks.
I know the tricks like clearing your cookies if you’ve been searching for flights, so the cheaper ones come up in searches again. Filling your basket with whatever you want to buy and then closing your browser, so the stalky marketing bots send you a discount code to tempt you to check out fully. Cashback tracking sites. Price comparison sites (and not the ones that are secretly selling their own products). Affiliate links. I’m down.
I’m also fully down with the notion of social media targeted ads. They’re not news, are they? Even elderly politicians use them. Everyone knows that you can pay Facebook and Instagram and Twitter to target specific age groups with your brand, so that my teenaged daughters get pimple creams and barely-there knitted bra tops on a banner rotation and I get the opportunity to subscribe, should I wish, to Gardener’s World magazine.
Over the past couple of years, the focus has switched in my targeted ads away from one-off purchases (clothes, cosmetics) and toward subscription services. It started with laundry detergent, and I scoffed mightily at such a ridiculous idea. It continued to recommend me monthly boxes of individually-wrapped rolls of toilet paper, and in my head, I dismissed all subscribers to that service as possibly in need of some manner of psychiatric help.
Pay way over the odds for something I could whack in my supermarket trolley with unthinking ease? Do I look like an idiot?
Then, all of a sudden, subscription offers began appearing that did not look quite so idiotic. (I’ll be honest, they definitely looked less idiotic because the ads were in a seductive fuzzy 70s-style palette of muted browns and greens with attractive sans-serif lettering fonts, so of course, I instantly believed they were designed for a discerning consumer such as myself).
There were pastel-colored razors, with carbon blades and sleek heavy handles. There were organic tampons, wrapped in brown paper and appealing desperately to the side of me that wants to be eco-friendly even though I can’t bear the process of washing out yogurt pots. There were soaps made on farms, with pieces of grit in them that alleged to be hemp or poppy seeds. There were “bee bombs” of wildflower seeds in tiny hessian bags.
Reader, I knew I was being seduced. I knew the bots had got clever and had identified me as a woman of a certain age with a bit of disposable income and ideas above her station in terms of style and ecological credentials. I knew that I was getting these particular ads because of sophisticated technology and that somewhere, the millennial entrepreneurs behind the startups targeting people like me were laughing all the way to the bank.
I didn’t care. I signed up anyway. Watch my letterbox flap like a demon every four weeks as smugly-sized eco-friendly brown boxes slide through it in an expensive stream, delivering me razor blades and cotton tampons and chocolate with CBD in it (for menstrual cramps, and only eleven times the price of a bar of Cadbury’s and a hot bath, since you mention it). Watch me tag the companies on Instagram and send referral links to my friends and pay through the nose for slightly improved versions of products I never had a problem with in the first place.
I’m a sucker, pure and simple. I’ve been got by the parts of the internet I swore would never get me. But I’m a sucker with the smoothest legs you ever did see and soap that acts like sandpaper but smells like heaven. And I’m saving the planet and supporting start-ups and shoring up the economy. What price smug middle age?
(Anyone want a referral code, by the way? Yes, the CBD chocolate tastes a tiny bit like carpet, but look at that wrapper! Beautifully retro. Grammable af).