Mike Hanbery October 1, 2014

Social Media Advertising: Facebook Creeps Inside Your Mind

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We’ve gone and made the Internet creepy.

This was a recurring theme at the Internet Marketing Association’s annual conference, September 24 – 26, 2014. We also dialogued about seamlessness, personalization and the importance of content and storytelling—the sincere effort to make the Internet an enjoyable experience—but we all had to admit to each other that our grabs for personal information combined with tactics like retargeting, where we chase people around the Internet with display ads, is over the top.

Only to marketers is it “neat” when we share the Hot for Teacher video and moments later, advertisements start appearing for an ‘80’s cover band music festival. For everyone else, it’s over the top. Creepy.

But this is the natural outcome of social media advertising. Facebook knows more about you than you do. We may think, for example, that we are middle-of-the-road in our politics, but if we “like” more conservative content than liberal content, Facebook serves up Republican campaign ads. The other side to the “creepy” coin is that this is exactly the data needed for advertisers to create increasingly relevant experiences for their audiences. The exact same phenomenon that weirds people out makes the Internet more interesting.

On September 29, 2014, Facebook announced it would roll out a cross-platform advertising platform it calls Atlas. As Business Insider explains, “In Atlas, ads are not bought through Facebook. Advertisers can purchase ad campaigns through Atlas, and they can choose whether or not to include it on Facebook.”

So, using the Atlas platform, advertisers can buy ad space outside of Facebook, i.e. in the same search engine marketing space heretofore dominated by Google, but the ads use Facebook’s behavioral knowledge of its users to present advertisements with the same immediate intimacy and relevance as the aforementioned music festival.

Creepy? Depends.

Behavioral targeting is a term that’s been tossed around in Internet advertising pitches since before Facebook was a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, but it was still predicated on the traditional media model. “This (TV show/magazine/blog site) appeals to this demographic and that’s who buys your product.” So that’s not new. What’s new is that the aforementioned personal interest, manifesting itself in real time, presents itself as a marketing opportunity.

Should it not?

Emotional advertising is also not new. Coca-Cola and Alka-Seltzer were making us smile decades ago. Home security systems play to fear and Karl Malden used to do the same thing when shilling for American Express. It’s effective. But we’re moving beyond appealing to the demographic. Advertisers are targeting people based not on their overall personas, but on how they feel, and what they care about, right now.

Perhaps the reason social media advertising and its inevitable offshoots and expansions are “creepy” is not that it reaches us at these times and on these levels, but rather because people are getting the old-fashioned hard sell instead of sincere attempts to create an experience they welcome. We are actors in a transformational age but we still just seek to complete the transaction.

Wars are won not on the battlefield but in the hearts and minds of people. We must appeal to hearts and minds. A new level of transparency and sincerity is in order. Otherwise, you know how people hate lawyers and politicians? They’ll hate us like that. And they tune out.

How to use this Information
With power comes responsibility. Advertisers now have greater capabilities to target their audience in ways never before imagined. We can make the Internet even creepier and more annoying or we can promote ourselves in ways that touch the heart and sincerely add value to people’s lives. We can tell stories people are glad they’ve heard. Will your social media advertising target your prospective customers or seek to build a relationship with them?

How will you tell your story?

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