We’re entering an era where changing your relationship status on Facebook may trigger ads for Match.com. Like a lot of things, dynamic ads have a few malicious downsides. In May of this year, The Guardian reported a leaked research report where Facebook claimed they could identify when a teenager feels “anxious,” “defeated,” “useless,” “overwhelmed,” and more. Facebook denied the statement, claiming the proposed service was actually “intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves.” Sometimes, there are just things we don’t want Big Data to know.

Facebook presents a tremendous opportunity for advertising. It’s the largest social media platform, at two billion users, and you can target nearly any audience you want. In February 2015, Facebook introduced “dynamic,” or targeted ads; presenting a plethora of targeting options (98, to be exact) at our fingertips. You can combine these targeting options into groups that are even more niche. This feature allows advertisers to narrow their audiences to anyone from soccer moms to motorcyclists to the technology inept. Companies have found dynamic ads are the key to success, boosting clickthrough rates by approximately 15%, and in one case up to 730% (the company in question was Smartly).

Many have reported targeted ads for mental health services and apps. In an article for Vice, Kari Paul details a distressing experience with frequent pitches like “bipolar depression isn’t the same as other kinds of depression.” A Mashable article identified other personal ads people have seen including promotions for hair regrowth, hemorrhoid treatment, and help for porn addiction. Users feel understandably creeped out. People don’t like invasions of their personal life, especially when they feel these sensitive topics are being thrown back at them in the form of ad bait. There’s even a nifty term for it: psychological reactance, or a perceived infringement on behavioral freedoms. This psychological reactance will hinder any chance for brand loyalty.

The key to a successful targeted ad is to creep people out as little as possible, while simultaneously making the ad relevant. Coca-Cola targeted energetic, positive people who had posted photos containing iced tea brands such as Snapple and Arizona. These users then saw ads for Coca Cola’s iced tea brand, Gold Peak. Their campaign was a success. The lesson here is that Facebook is a powerful tool, but marketers have a few things to consider before they unleash their targeted campaigns into newsfeeds. Ads that scare or offend the consumer aren’t very effective. Brand loyalty comes naturally when customers feel their privacy is being respected. So whether you use a high-tech image analysis service or just aim for a positive, empowering aesthetic in your advertisements, make it a priority to make the customer comfortable and the results will show.


By: Catherine Sinow