Facebook Adds Hurdle to Targeted Ads

Today’s social climate is not always easy to navigate. Every day, it seems as though there is a new celebrity, brand or organization that is being scrutinized for an insensitive tweet, product or statement. Keeping up with such rapid changes, especially in the age of social media, can seem overwhelming.

For advertisers, it’s a hurdle that could affect the bottom line if not addressed, particularly when we are discussing digital ad targeting. With Facebook’s ad spend increasing from $324 million in 2017 to $1.1 billion in 2018, keeping a pulse on the latest regulations and public perceptions is not optional. Advertisers must be keen on recent political, social and legal developments, both in- and outside of the digital advertising realm. Facebook, one of the most controversial players in the game, is one to keep a close eye on.

Are you able to name all of the categories that Facebook has considered to be discriminatory? If you’re in advertising, you probably should be able to. Race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability and medical or genetic conditions are all traits that could be categorized as discriminatory. In theory, this sounds fair and ethical – of course we wouldn’t discriminate against these groups! Well … at least we don’t intend to.

Of course, there are plenty of advertisers who have used discriminatory targeting practices on purpose; targeting by zip code as it correlates with race, for example. But, what if our intentions are good? Advertisers are simply trying to target those who are most likely to lead to a click, a conversion and ultimately a sale. Sometimes that audience skews female, sometimes male. Occasionally, an older audience is more likely to engage with an ad than a younger audience. Maybe you are running a recruitment campaign in search of more diverse candidates.

So, when Facebook disapproves your ad and labels it as “discriminatory” – even though it was created it with the most well of intentions – it can be frustrating, disheartening and straight-up confusing. All of the energy that has been poured into the creative, the strategy and the placement seems to fly out the window. That’s wasted time. The more we as marketers educate ourselves on these new policies – whether we agree with them or not – the more time, money and potentially tears we’ll save in the end.

How do you know if your ad will get the boot from Facebook? Well, if you fall into a “Special Ad Category” – Credit Opportunities, Employment Opportunities or Housing Opportunities (or Related Services) – your chances are a lot higher. Examples for each of these categories can be found on Facebook’s Ad Management site, but even Facebook acknowledges in the disclaimer that the list is not comprehensive.

Those who fall into a Special Ad Category have highly restricted targeting options, which is bad news for advertisers who are trying to promote a product that is meant for specific audiences. As an example, consider a loan product that offers benefits specifically for veterans – would you want to waste ad dollars showing the ad to non-veterans? Under the Special Ad Category rule, you’d probably have to, as veterans will likely fall under one of the discriminatory targeting categories.

Obviously, this doesn’t make our lives as advertisers any easier, but the moral of the story isn’t to develop a distaste for Facebook. Chief executive of the NFHA, Lisa Rice, once said that “technology and how data is used is really the new civil rights frontier” – and she’s not wrong. Keep abreast of the latest news, continually do research, and try to avoid doing things because “you’ve always done them that way,” and you’ll be equipped for anything that Facebook, or the next ad tech giant, will throw your way.