Privacy vs. Personalization: The Problem With Targeted Ads

Privacy vs. Personalization: The Problem With Targeted Ads

Targeted ads: It’s a simple enough strategy in theory, but there are some layers to this onion that brands don’t often peel back.

As marketers, we want our ads to be effective. We want to reach more people. But too often, we’re using ad strategies that aren’t aligned with our brand, its overall goals, or our marketing strategy.

Ads are siloed and viewed in very black-and-white terms: We’ve reached X number of people and Y number have converted. But we’re not thinking about the people who didn’t convert or the leads we’ve actually lost as a result of our ad campaigns.

Because let’s face it: Ads can be incredibly intrusive and obnoxious if they’re not set up properly (or with strategy in mind).

We’ve all gotten ads that seem to have no frequency cap — and that seem to be meant for someone who definitely isn’t you.

Our audiences experience the same thing. If we’re not careful, our ads can become an intrusion rather than a positive touchpoint.

Instead of thinking about how we can get the best results (aka lowest cost per conversion) for our ads, we have to think about how to target ads in a way that doesn’t feel like an invasion of privacy — one that shoots our brand in the proverbial foot.

Instead of “How can we increase conversions with ads?” the question should be, “How can we make targeted ads mutually beneficial?” One could even argue that we need to talk about the ethicality of targeted ads.

It’s not a light topic but it is important. And we have some best practices that we think can help, so let’s get started.

The real dilemma: Privacy

The TL;DR of ad targeting? Not everyone wants targeted ads.

That’s why so many consumers were thrilled with iOS 14 updates that were released in April 2021. With this release, Apple's App Tracking Transparency Framework (ATTF) now allows users to put privacy protection in their own hands and to decide what data can be used for targeted advertising.

Plenty of consumers have taken advantage — 70% of iPhone users were sharing their IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) before the release. Today, only 13% of iPhone users are sharing that information globally.

One could argue that the people have spoken. Many of them do not want targeted ads. In fact, only 43% of Baby Boomers prefer targeted ads, while 81% percent of Gen Z actually prefer them.

But with stats like that, one could also argue that the “ethicality” and efficacy of targeted ads come down to who you’re marketing to. But there are some valid concerns that social users have regarding ads.

Discrimination in targeted advertising

Unfortunately, targeted advertising has the potential to reinforce biases and discriminatory practices. Algorithms may inadvertently amplify existing prejudices — a la the famed “echo chamber.”

While this feeds into organic content, it can also perpetuate stereotypes in paid content. Meta has been presented with claims and lawsuits arguing that their ad targeting and algorithms don’t show higher-paid job postings to older workers or women as frequently as they do to men. 

And while some of the iOS 14 changes are helping to resolve this, it’s still on the brands that create these ads to think about how their targeting, frequency, and placement could be potentially discriminatory.

Data breaches in targeted advertising

Another element of ad aversion? Data breaches.

Ad powerhouses like Meta don’t exactly have the best track record for protecting data collected by (and used for) ads. In 2020, Facebook was sued for failing to protect nearly 87 million users' personal data in the Cambridge Analytica breach — the largest breach in Facebook history.

Data collected by social media platforms include:

  • On-site activity
  • The pages you like or engage with
  • The ads you click
  • Your device and location settings
  • Your brand of phone
  • Your type of internet connection 

Of course, that’s not an exhaustive list but it does feel a little Joe Goldberg-y (read: stalker-esque), and consumers aren’t into it.

Don’t get us wrong: Ad targeting can be positive

We may have just gone down the rabbit hole over the “ick factor” that is targeted advertising — but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

When ad targeting is done with the brand, audience, and strategy in mind, it can actually be incredibly powerful and even increase your customer’s experience. 

And from a business perspective, it allows your brand to deliver the right message to the right audience, increasing the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and potentially driving higher conversion rates. But you know that part already.

Targeted ads can also help you find YOUR people — and help them find you, too.

We’ve got the perfect example: Katie (our founder) recently used paid ads to help attract the right people for her in-person event in Portugal.

Not only were the ads effective, but Katie said that the people who showed up were “like long-lost family without the interpersonal issues.” These folks were incredibly aligned and are a great representation of the community we’ve been able to build

You’d never know it, but ads helped us find them.

The key to making that happen? Creating ads that align with your brand strategy, your existing content, and social plans, while leveraging easy-to-understand privacy policies that don’t invade others’ privacy.

Good ads are possible and it’s not as hard as others make it out to be. 

A checklist for ethical & effective targeted ads

Want to start using ads? Want to ensure you’re using them as an extension of your brand — and not a potential risk to it? There are several best practices for an ethical ads strategy in 2023.

Put privacy and data protection first

Protect people’s information and comply with the law. Implement tools to help avoid security breaches and vet those tools before using them.

This also means working with ad agencies and contractors who understand and abide by those same standards.

Take a good long look at your targeting data

Discrimination in ads happens. Meta is kind of notorious for it.

This is where marketers and brands have to draw new lines. After all, your brand has demographics and psychographics that tell you who your ideal client or customer is. How do you avoid discriminating against anyone?

It’s actually pretty simple: Avoid ad-targeting practices that discriminate against individuals based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, or any other protected characteristics.

Minimize intrusion

The days of bro marketer “in your face” ad strategies are dead in the water. Understand your audience enough to know their preferences for ad frequency and types of ads they want to consume. 

If you’re getting a lot of “unimpressed” or annoyed comments, or your ads are getting flagged as spam, it’s time to revisit your copy, your creative, and your targeting.

Beyond ads, also consider other ways to limit intrusion.

For example, if someone opts into your list from an ad and changes their mind, don't give them the runaround on unsubscribing. If they want to unsubscribe, let them.

Keep your content relevant and valuable

If you don't know what content resonates with your ORGANIC audience, don't start promoting to a PAID audience. Have your content strategy laid out and make sure you're sharing relevant, high-quality content.

Don’t have that yet? Do yourself a favor and put a pause on your ad spend.

Before you can create strategic, aligned, and impactful ads, you need to really know who your audience is and what content resonates. Otherwise, you will be wasting money and potentially damaging your brand’s perception.

Need help figuring out your social strategy and messaging before you turn to paid ads? Join us inside the F*** the Algorithm workshop. We got you.

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