In an announcement last month, Meta for Business revealed that it would be “removing certain ad targeting options and expanding ad controls”. The announcement was designed to “better match people’s evolving expectations of how advertisers may reach them on [Facebook] and address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options we make available.”
As such, from January 19th 2022, Facebook will remove detailed targeting options that relate to potentially sensitive topics, such as causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation. For example, targeting options such as “chemotherapy”, “same-sex marriage” and “Jewish holidays”. The marketing platform claims that targeting users using these options could “lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups”.
Publicly, the move is designed to simplify Facebook’s targeting options over time, in a bid to encourage advertisers to use broad targeting by age and demographic. But privately, it may also be intended to help reform public perceptions of Facebook which have been damaged ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal of the 2016 US Presidential Election and Brexit campaigns. Questions of data protection and ethics have hounded the platform, after organizations involved in both campaigns were accused of abusing user data on the platform for political gains.
While on face value the change is a positive step for Facebook towards more ethical targeting, the repercussions for some businesses and organizations could be significant. In particular, for advertisers who are trying to generate positive societal change, such as charities that depend heavily on targeting interest groups to reach niche audiences for support and donations.
While the broader targeting options that Facebook is promoting will suit larger advertisers with bigger budgets, smaller charities may be left playing catch up. For example, advertisers won’t be able to target more specific groups or events, including awareness days as effectively, such as “lung cancer awareness” and “World Diabetes Day”. These are key campaign moments for many charities and offer strong revenue streams.
Facebook has however offered some alternative options for advertisers to use its owned data through custom audiences, including:
- Engagement Custom Audiences can help advertisers reach people who have liked their Page or people who have watched their News Feed videos. These people have already shown direct interest in and engaged with the advertiser’s cause or brand.
- Engagement Custom Audiences can also be used as a seed audience to build Lookalike Audiences to help them further widen the people they can reach.
- Website Custom Audiences, and lookalikes based on these audiences, can help reach people who have already engaged with a business or group’s website or products.
- Location Targeting can help advertisers to reach people in close proximity to a business’ store or within the radius of their shipping capabilities.
- Customer lists from a custom audience can enable targeting of specific individuals, provided the advertiser has had permission from their customers to use their data for targeting.
Although the possible alternatives can maintain a high performing ad campaign, many charities will now have to reassess their campaign strategies. Ahead of the rule changes on January 19th 2022, advertisers are advised to begin testing and learning different combinations of targeting strategies.
Above all, it will be more important than ever for advertisers to ensure their creative is attention-grabbing and their content supports their marketing objectives. Ensuring high quality adverts can support business through these changes regardless of their impact.