Annals of targeted advertising

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I'm used to getting spammed about every plausibly product-related web search I do. But I'm at a loss to understand what triggered an email this morning with the Subject line "Trending Just For You: Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Girls". The body of the message:


  1. D.O. said,

    April 23, 2017 @ 5:51 pm

    How do you expect us to make a guess without publishing your web browsing history? Not that I expect it or am willing to actually get to work. On the second thought, maybe you've entered by accident some repetitive sequence of letters and google translate pounced on it.

  2. AntC said,

    April 23, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

    Don't worry, @D.O., thanks to the U.S.'s new so-called government, everybody's web history is now a saleable commodity.

    All you need do is offer enough money to Mark's ISP.

    Mark's screenshot claims "trending in Philadelphia". That's surely enough of a connection?

    [(myl) Not everyone in Philadelphia has gotten one of these. At first I thought that my secret vice of reading First Things was catching up with me, but in fact the connection is probably just Philadelphia + Indiegogo.]

  3. Rube said,

    April 23, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

    If we weren't talking about someone of your stature, I'd guess you'd been Googling "Catholic school girl uniforms".
    Since that's out of the question, had you maybe done something about "catholic tastes"?

  4. Guy said,

    April 23, 2017 @ 8:02 pm

    The important hint here is the name of the journal. Clearly the web-browsing algorithm knows Mark better than he knows himself, and is prescribing a religious conversion and a gender transition.

  5. S Frankel said,

    April 23, 2017 @ 8:36 pm

    I hope I'm not the only one who thinks that this sounds like a porn magazine. Maybe the answer to ML's question is best left undiscussed.

  6. wtsparrow said,

    April 23, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

    To me the ad looks like a Charmin or Kleenex package.

  7. Guy said,

    April 23, 2017 @ 11:21 pm


    I was getting a Lisa Frank vibe.

  8. Andreas Johansson said,

    April 23, 2017 @ 11:40 pm

    The line at the bottom sounds like it's aimed at the parents of Catholic girls rather than the girls themselves, so maybe the algorithms thought Mark was surfing in a parent-y way?

  9. Martin Ball said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 1:22 am

    Interesting semantic contradiction: 'be yourself' as long as it's what we tell you!

  10. Kayla said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 4:12 am

    Why do you think spam you receive has to be because you did a product-related search?

  11. Ellen Kozisek said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 6:36 am

    @Martin Ball

    There is nothing in the ad suggesting that girls must be what "we" (whoever your "we" is) tell them to be. Just because the magazine is Catholic (for Catholic girls) does not mean it's obligated to follow your stereotypes of what the Catholic Church is like. No, "find their God-given identity and mission in life" does not mean "be what we tell them". It means seeking one's own individual path. It's a repetition of the idea of "be yourself", not a contradiction to it.


    He would also need an age transformation to be a "Catholic girl", as, unlike the word "girl" by itself, which seems, unfortunately, to be able to refer to women of any age, the term "Catholic girl" strongly indicates actual female children.

  12. Ellen Kozisek said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 6:42 am

    I notice, right under the graphic on the right, "available to fund". The ad seems to be for a fundraising campaign to launch the magazine, thus aimed at anyone who might fund it, and not.

    And, now after a Google search, yes, it's a fundraising campaign thing, via Indiegogo, but, no, it's not a magazine, but rather a journal in the diary sense of the word.

  13. BZ said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 9:08 am

    Although having Googled it myself, I agree that this is closer to a "diary" journal than a "magazine" or "academic" journal, but I had to google it. How can a diary guide someone anywhere after all? Indeed, I would not call something like this a journal and no dictionary provides a definition of "journal" that includes something like this.

  14. Guy said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 12:28 pm


    I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. A dictionary that doesn't list a definition for "journal" that shows it is synonymous with "diary" is not a very good dictionary. I couldn't find any such dictionary after checking a few.

  15. Kayla said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 8:20 pm


    I once read a phonetics book that said the pharynx was synonymous with the throat. There is a lot of ignorance out there.

  16. Kayla said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 8:25 pm

    @Ellen Kozisek:

    "He would also need an age transformation to be a "Catholic girl", as, unlike the word "girl" by itself, which seems, unfortunately, to be able to refer to women of any age, the term "Catholic girl" strongly indicates actual female children."

    I think "Catholic girl" can refer to a woman of any age. Imagine a 30-year old woman saying "I'm a good Catholic girl".

    And why would "girl" referring to a woman of any age be unfortunate? The same applies to "boy". I've seen plenty of YouTube videos where males in the 20's say things like "hey, hey…it's your boy Jay here with a new prank for you guys".

  17. Andrew Usher said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 10:03 pm

    Martin Ball:

    That can hardly be blamed on the Catholics; the phrase 'be yourself' or some synonym is almost always misused. (Also, I wouldn't call this a 'contradiction' as titles aren't really supposed to follow logic, at least this type of them.)

    No one wants to tell the truth that following 'be yourself' as a rule gets you nowhere but in trouble (Is that grammatical?); nor do anything to change that regrettable fact. It's the 'self-esteem' movement (definitely not religious) and they don't need no stinking facts!

    k_over_hbarc at

  18. Andrew Usher said,

    April 24, 2017 @ 10:08 pm

    Further anyone that understands the internet knows that all e-mail advertising is targeted in some way; even that on websites and other captive media tries to be.

  19. ardj said,

    April 25, 2017 @ 12:36 am

    Duck duck go ? No-Script ? Ghostery ? Privacy Badger ? Disconnect ? Self-destructing cookies ? All available in Firefox.

  20. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    April 25, 2017 @ 3:59 am

    Guy: Neither a diary nor a journal usually guides you to be a better or a different person – except maybe in Harry Potter, and that didn't work too well.

    I'm sure it's not the first time it's been done, and you can see the development from e.g. a food diary where you write down what you eat, or any other kind of journaling done to help discourage bad habits or encourage good ones – but it's definitely an extension of the original meaning.

  21. Margaret Wilson said,

    April 25, 2017 @ 11:36 am

    Probably it's a journal with inspiriational/didactic quotes on each page. Sadly, the marketing of "journaling" as something you can't just do yourself with a notebook from the drugstore has been around for quite a while.

  22. Graeme said,

    April 25, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

    His spam moves in mysterious ways

  23. Rodger C said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 6:51 am

    Deep in unfathomable minds.

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