Or is it the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?
When one of my friends was expecting, she told me she was seeing pregnant women everywhere. A new baby boom?
I wasn’t quite sure. I actually could not recall seeing any pregnant woman lately. Still, we were going to the same places, living in the same city. Strange! How come?
The key to this mystery might be the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, a.k.a. ‘the frequency illusion’.
It’s a bit unclear who discovered the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It was mentioned on an internet forum in 1994 by Terry Mullen. Earlier, he never had heard about the Baader-Meinhof group, a West-German terrorist group also known as RAF. However, after seeing a news article about Baader-Meinhof, he started to see the name pop up in media far more often than before. What caused this sudden attention to a terrorist group from the seventies? Not a media hype, but an illusion!
How it works
Whenever you are learning something new, or when you are emotionally ‘hit’ by something, this subject get’s your selective attention. Next, you start to recognize this thing everywhere, because people are wired to see patterns. This is why I often see ladies who look like my grandmother. Or people passing by wearing the same jacket I bought.
However, before you think your mind is playing tricks on you all the time. When Baader-Meinhof happens to you online, this probably is due to Google search engine being smart or to a marketer retargeting you. Google search engine reacts to your search behavior, your location and characteristics. The search engine will show search results that are most relevant to you (read: the best fit for you). Websites are showing you ads from products you have already taken an interest in. This is called retargeting. A smart marketer uses retargeting in a subtle manner because the goal is to be helpful, not to be annoying.
You will fall for it
If you are a very conscious consumer, you probably laugh about the retargeting-ads. Nevertheless, if you are in a hurry for, say, new hiking shoes, because your holiday starts tomorrow, you probably are going to click on the retargeting ad anyway!