Do people care enough to be spooked by Facebook's targeted News Feed ads?

My short answer to the above question is ”no”, but it doesn’t mean advertisers cannot mess up using Facebook’s News Feed ads effectively and ultimately switch consumers off their brand.

Ronan Shields

Earlier this week, the social network has announced it is selling News Feed ad spots via its Facebook Exchange (FBX) on a trial basis. This will let brands show ads to Facebook users based on their online browsing interests (both on Facebook and elsewhere) within the most popular destinations on Facebook.

Effectively, all this means is that ‘better quality inventory’ will now be available via the exchange - ads appearing on the righthand side of users’ Facebook pages have been available in this way since last year.

Mainstream media outlets have carried reports of analyst warnings this may arouse privacy concerns - an issue we have discussed at length in recent weeks with looming legislation in this area. However, I believe these ”concerns” are overplayed. Although this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to mess-up retargeting, in fact it’s really very easy if you take your eyes off the ball.

Firstly, serving web users with ads based on their surfing habits is hardly new.

If you ask the average Facebook user if they find this practice ”spooky” or a ”privacy violation”, I’d say that you’d get a ”yes” nine out of ten times. But in the majority of cases, the same people are already being served with ads elsewhere. To my mind, this shows there is actually a pretty high level of tolerance for online behavioural targeting. Awareness of this issue is an entirely different matter but that’s a whole other column for me to write.

However, to my point above, the misuse of retargeting can prove toxic to a brand. While this retargeting technology may prove effective in saving a sale and generating a good ROI, nothing says ”spooky” like an ad that follows you around the web. Here’s where high-level marketers must ask their digital teams about frequency capping on the amount of retargeted ads they serve.

This is a message, that Facebook also seems to have heeded, as interestingly mobile inventory is not part of the News Feed/FBX experiment (yet).

Debating the above issue with my esteemed colleague Lara O’Reilly, she agreed serving retargeted ads in itself is not spooky but she did raise the point that maybe Facebook is reticent about letting brands target users based on their location. That’s despite constant pressure from shareholders to monetise its Facebook audience - which accounts for over half its usage.

Clearly, Mark Zuckerberg - a man who has publicly declared the death of online privacy - isn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of a Facebook user being served with an ad from a store they just entered (and subsequently left). But I’m sure plans are afoot to address this audience using retargeting.

Ultimately, my message to marketers would be to retarget where it makes sense but online stalking just screams “spooky” and is tantamount to brand suicide. A balance must be struck, a sentiment echoed by no less a digital marketing force than Microsoft Advertising.

Readers' comments (2)

  • My news feed has recently been filled with sponsored posts from the Prime Minister's Office of Japan. I have no idea how these were 'targeted' at me, having never to my knowledge made any online comments regarding Japan.

    I wouldn't say I find it spooky, but it does convince me that whatever targeting algorithms Facebook uses don't work very well. Still, on the plus side I'm learning a lot from comments by angry Koreans about the disputed territory of Dokdo.

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  • Thanks for raising this issue Ronan. As with all online advertising, I think a good degree of user acceptance testing can be gleamed from the results that are being seen through the medium.
    Here at Triggit we are using dynamic product level retargeting within Facebook (via FBX) and we are seeing much higher click through rates and conversions for our customers than when using static creative and/or via other exchanges. Surely this indicates that users are finding these placements more relevant (and useful) rather than being "spooked" about this type of retargeting?

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