This past Sunday, Facebook posted a blog entry about their new advertising plans. I’ve had a few days to think about the post and some of the analysis surrounding the post and I can’t shake this feeling of disappointment. But if you think it’s because Facebook ads in general make me sad, you’re wrong. It’s because I want Facebook to be better at innovating advertising. I suspect they feel the same way. I hope so.
But let’s understand what Facebook has announced. Their blog post details three new advertising products:
- Facebook Exchange. This service follows you as you move around the web among certain trusted sites. Then when you visit Facebook you will be shown ads based on other web sites you’ve visited. So if you’ve spent a lot of time looking at marathon pictures and articles about long distance conditioning then you may see ads for running shoes.
- Custom Audiences. This allows brands to target specific people instead of attributes. On Facebook you can do advertisements based on attributes. So, for example, I could market something to men, 30-49, in Texas, who like BBQ and that content will only show up for people who have given that information to Facebook. Custom Audiences allows a brand to securely give Facebook customer email addresses and only those people will see the ad.
- Measuring Advertising Performance. This is a partnership with a third party so that Facebook can securely give them some data and brands can securely give the third party some data and then the third party can better track the performance of advertising campaigns. Which gives this feature all the sex appeal of a 1988 Nissan Sentra.
The blog post has a bit more detail about how the information is secured and includes another section about how they value privacy but also value money because it helps run Facebook. Nice to see them being honest.
Facebook’s post makes me sad because I’d like to see them do more. I want to see them do something different. Something more Facebook-like. What they’re doing could be done on any website out there. In fact, it may be done right now on websites with a lot of traffic. We wouldn’t necessarily know, but we wouldn’t be all that surprised.
We all get how advertising works. And for the most part we’re willing to put up with it since it gives us things we want for free (or less than without ads). But as a consumer in a consumer-driven market, I actually like targeted advertising. Right now I record my TV shows and fast forward through the commercials because I’m not buying a new car, I already have a house alarm system, and I don’t have issues urinating. If the commercials were instead filled with science fiction movie trailers or blurbs about some new mobile game, I would totally watch that. But to make those kinds of changes to the TV infrastructure is beyond daunting and not what it was made for. TV was designed to be one-to-many.
Facebook and social media were designed to make billions of one-to-one connections in ways that previous websites didn’t. And yet, when it comes to marketing, it’s the same old thing. Marketers tend to be pretty cutting edge in their use of technology and they sometimes go too far and have to be pulled back, but Facebook should be helping to drive those changes. Maybe they just haven’t found their sweet spot or this is a first step, but I’d like to see better ads, not just more ads.
When Google first announced that their Gmail product would scan your email and provide you with targeted ads based on keywords in your email, privacy professionals were up in arms. But it turned out to be not so bad. Sure, you got funny results sometimes. But every once in a while it gave you something shockingly relevant and worthy of clicking.
We get that pushing into new advertising grounds means pushing the privacy envelope, and Facebook may be hesitant to do so given their own privacy issues. But there’s room to grow here that can make something better for Facebook and better for consumers.
For example: what if Facebook gave you context specific ads based on posts? Not every post, only ones that meet certain criteria. But if a star or something appeared in the corner of the post. When you click/rollover the star, a popup gives you some suggestion. “Hey, I saw you talking about Taken 2. Would you like to buy a discounted ticket and popcorn?” I would like that. Especially because I really want to see Taken 2 no matter how low it scores on Rotten Tomatoes (just broke into double digits!).
I’ve seen many posts from friends complaining about seeing ads on Facebook more these days. I get that, and I feel the same sometimes. But mostly because I want better.