Media & Tech Tuesday - The perils of targeted advertising

Targeted advertising has become somewhat of a holy grail for companies seeking to connect with potential customers. In simple terms this type of advertising identifies that someone is likely to be interested in buying a product and then – automatically -places online ads for the product on the pages that this person visits. It’s very clever….

In fact, companies such as Facebook generate significant revenues from this type of advertising – they have rich data on their users – which is a key USP – and they exploit this data for the benefit of their advertiser clients. In the first Quarter of 2013, Facebook generated total revenues of $1.46bn.

However it was reported that some of Facebook’s key advertisers – blue-chip companies such as Nissan, Unilever and Nationwide – have recently complained and, in certain cases, have suspended their Facebook advertising campaigns after some of their ads appeared next to offensive images or posts.

This followed complaints on Twitter from women’s rights and other groups over the publication of certain misogynistic content on Facebook. Adverts commissioned by Nissan, Unilever and Nationwide were automatically placed next to the offensive content and, to the embarrassment of the advertisers, screenshots of their products appearing next to the images were then widely circulated on the internet.

Clearly the reputational damage that such automatic product placement risks can significantly outweigh the benefits of targeted advertising.

It is therefore imperative that Facebook, and other companies which generate revenues from this sort of marketing service, offer a solution – either through the better policing and moderation of content (which is challenging for Facebook given the number of pages on its site) or by coming up with a technological solution to ensure that targeted adverting campaigns are kept well away from anything that is potentially offensive.

Watch this space….

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