By BARBARA ORTUTAY
AP Technology Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — If you want to tailor a Facebook ad to a single user out of its universe of 2.2 billion, you could.
to pitch your boutique bed and breakfast to a 44-year-old "trendy mom"
who lives in Seattle, leans conservative and is currently traveling in
the Toronto area but hasn't booked a hotel for the night yet? Go right
ahead. Interested in mail-ordering pet treats to a 32-year-old cat owner
in Madison, Wisconsin who enjoys Japanese food, doesn't like pizza and
has an anniversary coming up in the next two months? Not a problem.
ads, it turns out, is almost infinitely customizable — sometimes in
surprising ways. The ads you might see can be tailored to you down to
the most granular details — not just where you live and what websites
you visited recently, but whether you've gotten engaged in the past six
months, are interested in organic food or share characteristics with
people who have recently bought a BMW, even if you've never expressed
interest in doing so yourself.
made $40 billion in advertising revenue last year, second only to
Google when it comes to its share of the global digital advertising
market. Even with a recent decision to stop working with outside data brokers
to help advertisers target ads based on things like offline purchases
or credit history, this number is expected to grow sharply this year.
Here are some ways advertisers can target you through Facebook:
— MONITORING YOUR FACEBOOK ACTIVITY
now you've probably gathered that Facebook uses things like your
interest, age and other demographic and geographic information to help
advertisers reach you. Then there's the stuff your friends do and like —
the idea being that it's a good indicator for what you might do and
like. So, if you have a friend who has liked the New Yorker's Facebook
page, you might see ads for the magazine on your Facebook feed.
that's just the tip of the iceberg. Facebook and advertisers can also
infer stuff about you based on things you share willingly. For example,
Facebook categorizes users into an "ethnic affinity" based on what it
thinks might be their ethnicity or ethnic influence. It might guess this
through TV shows or music you've liked. Often, Facebook is wrong — and
while it's possible to remove it, you can't change it. There is also no
"ethnic affinity" option for whites.
While there are plenty of
good reasons advertisers may want to target people of a particular
ethnicity, this became a problem for Facebook in 2016, when ProPublica found
that it let advertisers exclude specific ethnic groups from seeing
their ads. When it comes to housing and employment ads, this is illegal.
late 2017, Facebook said it was temporarily blocking advertisers'
ability to target based on ethnic affinity, along with other things such
as religious or LGBT affinity. Advertisers can still target those
groups — just not exclude them. Facebook, which said it is conducting an
audit of how the feature can be misused, did not say when it would lift
While some advertisers want to reach large swaths of people, others like more specific targeting. As Facebook explains
in a guide for advertisers, it's possible to refine an ad's audience on
things like what people post on their timelines, apps they use, ads
they click, demographics such as age, gender and location, and even the
mobile device they use or their network connection. Based on this
information, advertisers can either include or exclude categories such
as homeowners, "trendy moms," people who moved recently, conservatives,
or people interested in cooking, for example.
That said, Facebook
warns advertisers not to narrow their audience too much by being overly
specific, which can make the ads less effective — since fewer people
will see them.
— FOLLOWING YOU OFF FACEBOOK
ad offering called "custom audiences" lets advertisers target anyone
who has already bought stuff from them or has visited their websites.
They can also target anyone who has shared an email address or
downloaded their app. So, if you use Netflix, you may see an ad on
Facebook for a new TV show that might interest you. Or, if you gave your
email address when you bought a pair of slippers from Land's End, you
might get an ad for an upcoming slipper sale, since Facebook has your
email address too.
Then there are "lookalike audiences." These are
people who are similar to a business's existing customer base, but are
not customers themselves. This can help advertisers reach people in
different countries, for example. Advertisers can use this tool by first
uploading their customers' data through the "custom audiences" feature.
Then, Facebook's algorithms look for people similar to them. In
addition, advertisers can also install a Facebook "pixel" on their site,
a piece of code that tracks what people do off of Facebook.
— DYNAMIC ADS
new type of ad Facebook launched recently, this lets businesses target
people who have already shown interest in them. It uses "retargeting" —
that sometimes-annoying way that a handbag you looked on a website can
follow you around the internet regardless of whether you want to buy it.
Dynamic ads, though, go a step further, and know if you were just
browsing or if you put that handbag in your online shopping cart, and
may nudge you with a 10 percent of coupon.
As Chief Operating
Officer Sheryl Sandberg explained in a recent earnings call, dynamic ads
let Holiday Inn target people who searched for hotels on its website
but hadn't yet booked. The ads these Facebook users saw had a video
personalized to the dates and places they searched for. The result: the
hotel chain got three times the return on what it spent on these ads
than on their previous ad campaigns, according to Sandberg.