I’m going to say it – I really like the ads on Facebook.
This is a significant statement because my traditional attitude toward advertisement consumption has been rather adversarial. Before there was DVR, I was the person who muted the commercials. Now I love my TiVO so much for all the noise it removes from my entertainment experience that I could give it a hug. And though I tout the wonders of internet radio station Pandora – I curse every time a 15-second ad is inserted into my streaming music. Obnoxious advertising was one of the primary factors why I abandoned terrestrial radio in the first place. I will stop reading an article of interest on a website if one of those Flash ads dances across the text. The user experience for that kind of interruption is so negative that I will actively stay away from that site and try to patronize its competitors.
The ads on Facebook are generated using the profile information that users input on their own. This provides two general results:
- Highly targeted and behavior driven advertisements that may have a greater chance of converting eyeballs to sales.
- Advertisements that know the user well – maybe even *too* well to the point that some say it is just plain creepy.
I will start with point two since it was in the news recently. In June, the congressional subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection held a hearing entitled Behavioral Advertising: Industry Practices and Consumers’ Expectations to review the impact of these promotional tactics on the general public. Featured witnesses included speakers from Google, Yahoo and Facebook as well as academic representatives from Princeton and the Center of Digital Democracy. In a statement regarding Facebook’s advertising tactics, representative and Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelley stressed that the social networking site’s ad targeting is “aggregate, non-personally identifiable information that is not shared or sold to third parties.”
This was essentially in response to concerns that the harvesting of personal data provided by users for marketing purposes was pushing the boundaries of privacy exceptations on the Internet. Privacy is a valid concern in the digital space. On social networks in particular, people want to know who is consuming the content they are generating. This is why Facebook’s walled garden platform has been so insanely popular. But even providing personal information in this so-called protected setting is still unnerving for some. Anecdotally, I knew an acquaintance who would purposely provide inaccurate profile information on Facebook because he didn’t want the site owners knowing too much about him.
Which brings me back to point number one – these ads are just more relevant than any other advertising I have ever seen in my life. Target demographic analysis can only get you so far. I am a loyal and mildly obsessive Daily Show viewer. Comedy Central knows that during the show’s commercial breaks would be an optimal time to promote Demetri Martin’s new television program, seeing as he is a regular on the show I am currently watching. But beyond specifics like that, most of the ads are just mind numbingly irrelevant. I don’t want to buy your car, I am not going to use your chauvinistic body spray and it is highly unlikely that I will make it to the theater for your summer blockbuster.
Though not 100 percent accurate, the advertising content that Facebook presents to me is shockingly relevant. Pulling from my profile, it was known that that I like a certain indie rock band and live in the city of Seattle. Ticketweb, an online concert site, positioned an ad alerting me that the band had a tour date at a club in Capitol Hill that holds less than 250 people. Had I needed tickets, the link would have taken me to a page where I could make a purchase. Knowing that I like soccer and live in Seattle, comeptitor Ticketmaster placed an ad promoting an upcoming match as Qwest Field. Seeing the word Kindle throughout my profile, Amazon (or the actual author perhaps) displayed an ad for an ebook that was available for a limited time for just 99 cents.
Now, none of these advertisements compelled me to make a purchase. But the fact that they are there and I am actually reading them is quite remarkable. In these days, actually getting someone’s attention is an achievement. Holding on to it is simply miraculous.