Facebook Ad Targeting Getting More Limited

How you reach your desired audience may get more difficult, depending on who you are targeting

Facebook (or should I now say Meta?) put out a blog announcing the sunsetting of many audience targets that are popular with digital marketers today. The categories that are being removed are ones they feel are related to "topics people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referencing causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation."

This isn't a surprise if you've been close to how the platform has long been declining ads they felt were too personalized, especially around personal health. Some of the new categories that will be restricted are a bit surprising. According to today's blog post restricted targeting categories will be:

  • More health causes (if you are someone who supports things like the American Cancer Society, Lung Cancer Awareness, etc.)
  • Sexual Orientation (same-sex marriage, LGBT culture, etc.)
  • Religious Practices/Groups (Jewish holidays, Catholic Church)
  • Political Beliefs, social issues, causes, organizations, and figures

What is a little more surprising is how broad of a brush and open to interpretation some of these categories are. It also seems like a slippery slope to have many other groups lobby to have their own category of interest also be restricted. It seems like more categories will disappear in the near future. In fact, the blog post states:

"It is important to note that the interest targeting options we are removing are not based on people's physical characteristics or personal attributes, but instead on things like people's interactions with content on our platform."

One of the biggest benefits to advertising on Facebook has been the ad platform's ability to target users based on their interactions on Facebook. If that disappears it seems as though it will drastically impact the effectiveness of specific ads.

It is an interesting about-face for a company that has made many many dollars off of just this type of targeting. I can see both sides of the issue. From one perspective, many marketers feel it is a service to show ads to people who may actually care about them. While that is a pretty self-serving argument, to some extent it is true.

Then there is the other side of it. If you already feel your personal privacy is being violated by having your anonymized data shared with marketers, then you likely will not appreciate that a cause or affiliation that is sensitive to you is being used to grown someone else's business or organization.

At the end of the day, I understand where Facebook is coming from and the balance they need to strike. I tend to agree that there are too many marketers out there that could send upsetting messages to people based on their beliefs, so it makes sense that we would restrict the ability to target certain beliefs. I do also think that Facebook is now trying to fix a problem they had a significant hand in creating.

Back in the antiquated days of the mid 2010's Facebook's, and audience targeting in general, was pretty amazing. I once had a colleague who would proudly declare to potential clients that we could target "left handed jugglers" if they wanted. I hope the clients understood the hyperbole in that statement, but to some extent that was true.  The depth, and in some cases the evil, of cookie based targeting, allowed marketers to target audiences with finite detail.

So What Do I Do Now?

BUILD YOUR OWN DATABASE. I can't say that strongly enough. The best way to combat the diminishing ability to target people based on their behaviors (remember that the cookies that we always used to do that are also dying a slow death) is to have your own data. Almost every platform allows you to utilize your own database to target, either directly or by building look-alike audiences. And don't just capture emails, names, and phone numbers, also do your own targeting by what people inquired about previously, or what they bought, or any other characteristic they freely gave up to you. Build your own ability to target your customers based on their wants and needs.

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