By David Potter
Meta, formally known as Facebook, announced that they would remove thousands of ad targeting options which could be considered “sensitive” last November. These changes are starting to be implemented this month and have huge implications for advertisers. It’s a tug of war between data privacy and a personalized ad experience.
Facebook/Meta writes, “Starting January 19, 2022 we will remove Detailed Targeting options that relate to topics people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referencing causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation. Examples include:
- Health causes (e.g., “Lung cancer awareness”, “World Diabetes Day”, “Chemotherapy”)
- Sexual orientation (e.g., “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT culture”)
- Religious practices and groups (e.g., “Catholic Church” and “Jewish holidays”)
- Political beliefs, social issues, causes, organizations, and figures”
Detailed targeting has been at the root of many advertisers’ strategies ever since Facebook Ads were introduced back in 2007. When advertisers can target individuals based on interests, it is more likely that those individuals will see ad content that is relevant to them. For example: if one’s psychographic targeting indicates an interest in poodles and this person engages with any poodle-related content online – then they’re more likely to see pet shop, pet training, dog bowl, and dog leash ads. Many Facebook users enjoy taking part in the comments section of Facebook ads either through pointing out less-than-obvious observations, posting memes or GIFs, or stating their opinions about controversial topics.
What about Christians who are looking for a fun Christmas movie to watch with their kids? Or cancer patients who are seeking world class care facilities or lifestyle management advice? These users will now receive less relevant ads because the cost to find them amongst a general ad audience will be high for marketers.
This personalized ad experience does not come without downsides. A bombardment of ads related to weight loss, beauty products, and bodybuilding can create a negative self-image for some young people. Targeted ads selling products that make extravagant claims, though against Facebook’s advertising policies, sometimes make it past Facebook’s AI ad review system. This can lead to Facebook users being upset with their purchase and less likely to use Facebook because they refuse to be served ads that they perceive as fraudulent.
Rarely civil, political ads can create animosity and division in the comments section. It should be noted, however, that people seem to enjoy taking part in comment wars. This shouldn’t be a big issue with targeted political advertising because users should generally be served ads reflecting their views, but for forgetful and less-than-savvy Facebook users, it could create a problem. Say someone liked Mitt Romney’s Facebook page in 2012. These users were still served Mitt Romney ads in 2018, even if they were newly convinced that he’s a RINO, if they forgot to unlike his Facebook page. More generally, on one hand, it can be argued that targeted political advertising creates more political polarization. On the other hand, it can be argued that political ads provide critical updates on policy issues that matter to users and a free speech forum where they can voice their opinions and be heard by the world.
What are the implications of this change for marketers and advertisers? Advertisers will need to be more creative in their targeting. They’ll have to use more data points and create different audiences based on the data they can still use. Meta is forcing marketers to target more general audiences. This can be troubling when you are promoting a niche product, obscure philosophy, or political ideology that half of the country hates. If you’re a marketer in 2022, expect your advertising costs to significantly rise unless you are selling something very general and very non-offensive. You probably won’t notice much difference at all if you’re selling fuzzy blankets.
Meta has made their decision, but it may not be final if they see a huge cut to their revenue. A better option for all- Meta, Facebook users, and Facebook marketers- would be to allow individual users to choose whether to opt out of receiving categories of ads that they find offensive. Facebook could ask users upon login to make it obvious and easy to opt-out. This would allow detailed ad targeting to remain on Facebook for marketers to reach potentially hundreds of millions, if not billions, of users. The previous advertising process would largely remain in place. Consequently, Meta (Facebook) could earn more revenue, get in less trouble with the politically correct crowd (because less complaints), Facebook users could choose to not be targeted for/see categorically offensive ads, and Facebook marketers could keep their ad budgets operating cheaply and efficiently as possible. Privacy and personalization can co-exist in the 21st century.
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