But for the video series, he was focused on just the lion stuff. With his shop loaded with a handful of products, his next step is to get people to see the merchandise. First, he creates a Lions Jewel Instagram account, posting a smattering of pictures with a link to his store. Then, he taps an Instagram account that posts pictures of nature, and brokers a sub-$20 deal that pushes some hundreds of people to his site through Lions Jewel’s Instagram account.
When they hit the site, there is a countdown clock telling them they are running out of time to grab the free bracelet deal. This is, of course not true. But it creates that “sense of scarcity,” as Ganon says, that leads to purchases. That clock is just another app for Shopify, Hurrify. It is supposed to increase conversions 2 to 3 percent, Ganon claims.
As one is shopping this kind of site, occasionally a screen will pop up saying, “Alexis in Oakland just purchased the West Louis (TM) Business-Man Windproof Long Coat.” This effect comes courtesy of yet another app, Sales Pop. Ganon and the appmakers say these pop-ups provide “social proof,” which is, again, designed to increase conversions. One would expect that such an app would show actual purchases, and it can do that. But it can also show “custom notifications” so that you can create fake customers who are supposedly buying things. Pick some cool-sounding names, pick some cool locations (“London,” “Paris,” “Mexico City,” “Oakland”) and it does the work of combining them into robo-social proof.
Given the array of behavioral tricks arrayed against your average Internet user, some of them take the free lion bracelet deal. But for those that don’t, merely by visiting his site, they’ve been tagged in Facebook’s system because Ganon has installed a standard Facebook tracking pixel. That means Ganon can now re-target those people who visited but left without purchasing anything through Facebook. And he spends a lot of time designing and testing ads that will bring them back for the purchase.
There’s nothing unusual about this in digital marketing. In fact, it’s a completely common practice. But employed so baldly, it shows the strangeness of our current commerce model. I like lions, so I follow an Instagram account that posts pictures of them, they post an ad, so I go to a webpage, and now I get ads chasing me all over the Internet advertising a lion bracelet. It’s enough to make you long for the days of going to the mall or buying stuff out of a catalog.
Ganon says he creates blogs for his sites, too. So maybe for his lion store, he’d cobble together “fun facts about lions” by looking up the most popular lion content on the site, Buzzsumo. Once you hit that page, he could retarget you.
This is one major purpose of “content marketing.” For example, a company could have someone ghostwrite its CTO some blog posts about cloud storage topics that only people deep in the industry could be interested in. Because of that hyperspecificity, anyone who lands on those pages is likely to be a prospective customer. So, even if the prose is unreadable, it doesn’t really matter beause by the time you’re staring at the words, the content has served its purpose already. Just by arriving on the page while logged into Facebook, you’ve placed yourself in a custom audience that can be targeted on the Facebook back end. This is a basic capability of the system: it works for any demographic, from Chief Executive Officers to white supremacists to lion lovers.