Somewhere, someone in a big US city is probably receiving a targeted ad on Instagram or Facebook, a guy who portrays a minimalist, semi-sarcastic lazy but notalso-lazy aesthetics associated with millennial culture, all glued around a few lines of eye-catching text. But this time, the text is not an advertisement for anti-ADHD drugs or an electric toothbrush. No, that’s for Jesus, and the person watching it is carefully selected by an algorithm based on their perceived sensitivity to religious messages.
It is, in short, a product offered by the Colorado startup Gloo, which has been the subject of a new one Wall Street Journal report. The stated goal of the company is to use its technology to find Internet users at the time they need them, and then act as a religious mediator who connects them with the church eager to increase its flock.
Unlike advertising a political campaign that can try to focus to individuals who have history of dealing with political articles or memes or sports site, Gloo is working in part using technology to find users who are thought to be in trouble, the same types of people who Churches sought it long before the advent of the internet. Looking at metrics such as demographics, search history and shopping behavior, Gloo argued that it could predict the characteristics of people in marriages who struggle, those who struggle with anxiety, or even those who may be trying to get rid of drug addiction, the Journal writes.
Company says his online campaigns are designed specifically for people who “don’t usually go to church — but need prayer” or rethink aspects of their faith. Gloo calls this sea of everyday internet doomscrollers “online researchers. ”
In a sense, Gloo’s ads are analogous to the digital, hyper-individualized equivalent of those memorable billboard ads scattered across interstate highways: timeless classics like “CHAINED BY LUST“Written in fiery text, or a personal favorite of this author,”After you die, you will meet God“, guarantee. (He has a dead vital sign next to him).
Fortunately, Gloo serves his commercials with a softer touch, but his targeted approach means he is much more likely to fall in front of the eyeballs of a person who is actually in an embrace of despair than his billboard brothers, or at least so companies pitch goes.
For example, the Gloo website contains examples of ads showing images with text convincing readers that “Jesus suffered from anxiety” and that “Jesus was born of a teenage mother,” signaling, among other things, the connection phrases. In the end, Gloo says his goal is to help churches save time while potentially serving (or at least reaching) a wider audience.
“Now imagine with me for a moment,” says the Gloo narrator promotional video for its “He Gets Us” campaign, “What if, instead of all these commercials, Jesus was the biggest brand in your city this holiday season?” The company puts all of these phrases on Instagram as a way for researchers to come across what they call he says Jesus and encourage them to their website or, better yet, maybe even go a step further and connect with the local church. On the other side of the coin, Gloo’s website provides detailed instructions, examples, and templates for Church volunteers who offer best practices for attracting these researchers once they have expressed interest.
“We believe this is the right thing to do,” a Gloo spokesman told The Journal, “and Gloo is committed to doing it the right way.”
In addition to commercials, Gloo also creates websites that try to connect people in need with churches for care. These websites are related to certain search terms such as “loneliness” or others related to a failed marriage. The company claims that at least 30,000 churches have partnered with Gloo to use its services and says it has anonymized digital profiles of about 245 million people in the United States. While there is a mix of free and premium services on the platform, the average premium user reportedly pays Gloo $ 1,500 a year, the Journal writes.
Services do not stop at the employment level either. Gloo also provides its partners (in this case, churches) with data analytics that show relevant community issues. This in theory means that Churches can take this information and use it to help make the services or sermons that best suit their community. Think Moneyball, but with original sin and transubstantiation. These advertising campaigns are of course not free, and Gloo says he can afford to practice a fund of funds coming from contributors and donors. New recruiting churches offer the potential for further growth in the Gloo Fund.
Regardless of the sincerity of Gloo’s stated mission, the company relies on the same types of targeted advertising techniques that have raised the alarm for activists and legislators in recent years, in particular accompanying Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal 2018. Everyday internet users are generally embarrassed by targeted ads. The majority (51%) of American adults interviewed In 2019, YouGov said that they think that targeted advertisements represent inappropriate use of personal opinion. This attitude has remained relatively consistent even when gender, age, income, region and political affiliation are taken into account.
These concerns have helped inspire new data privacy laws California and several other U.S. states that limit the penetration of targeted ads, although they have failed to garner any significant support for a federal privacy standard that would apply universally throughout the country. So far, Gloo told the Journal that it follows all California and other state privacy laws. Meanwhile, Google, one of several key resources for Gloo, has announced its intention to prohibit websites from using third-party cookies, which is a change that is likely to have an impact on targeted ads as a whole.
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