Do you ever feel like Facebook advertisers know you? Well, they might. Roderick Russell is a professional sword swallower. Ironically, Roderick Russell also has trouble swallowing pills. The ad below popped up as Roderick Russell scrolled through his Facebook page.
Russell assumed that advertisements were just becoming more targeted. Over time, he also realized that they were increasing in specificity and number. He began to feel paranoid and violated, a feeling that most Facebook users have experienced at some level. The difference is that Russell’s advertisements were delicately placed on his page by his roommate Brian Swichkow, a professional marketer. Brian utilized Facebook’s “Custom Audiences” ad targeting tool to place personalized ads on his roommate’s feed, partially as a prank, but partially as a study of social media marketing.
Facebook describes its Custom Audiences tool as “an ad targeting option that lets advertisers find their existing audiences among people who are on Facebook.” Already one of the most powerful and effective advertising platforms, Facebook decided to make its advertising opportunities even more powerful. The tool allows patrons to target specific users through e-mail identification, phone number, or Facebook identification. This can be an extremely beneficial tool for marketers, but what about the privacy of Facebook users? Is this mode of advertising too intrusive?
Coincidentally, the chapter that I just read for my Ethics and Communication dealt with targeting in advertising and marketing. Specifically, I remember an example that addressed unethical targeting. Orbitz used information that they collected with cookies to determine whether targets were using PCs or Macs. Based on this information, the targets would be presented with higher ticket prices, if they were Mac users or lower ticket prices if they used PCs. This, to me, is extremely unethical.
Though Custom Audiences is not yet a large problem, it is giving anybody the freedom to partake in this kind of advertising. Marketers (or roommates) can easily prey on Facebook users’ vulnerabilities. The power to manipulate via target advertising has now been spread to anyone that has the Internet, Facebook, and some extra cash. According to the “TARES” test, persuasive messaging should be truthful, authentic, respectful, equitable, and socially responsible. Custom Audiences has opened up a playing field where this test likely won’t be passed, and marketers have free reign of what they tell Facebook users. Advertising has become highly customizable and, therefore, highly powerful. It’s getting personal.