Writing in the latest edition of Vanity Fair, Kurt Eichenwald states that Facebook has "quietly been pioneering a marketing business model unlike any other" and goes on to praise the social networking Goliath for developing new targeting techniques that give "advertisers an unprecedented ability to reach only the potential audiences they want". Eichenwald comes to this conclusion, he says, following months of interviews with Facebook advertising clients, investors and key executives from Facebook itself.
The picture painted by Eichenwald in Vanity Fair is of a business which has pretty much revolutionised the marketing and advertising space online, and reinvented itself as a result. He talks of the kind of insight that Facebook can deliver to advertisers in order to enable them to deliver highly targeted messages at just the right time, such as tracking down "potential buyers at any point along the purchasing path" with an example used of Facebook users having checked travel prices without completing an order being able to be hit with ads "urging them to pull the trigger on buying".
It all sounds, from the advertising executive perspective at least, like marketing heaven. So why do I feel like I am in some kind of perpetual Facebook advertising hell instead? Seriously, quite where all this clever stuff comes into play I am at a loss to comprehend based upon the adverts that target me. I am vegan, an animal rights activist, an award winning IT security journalist, wear an eye patch and have more tattoos than the average Joe. The vegan side of things seems to attract some Facebook advertising love, but it's not the cleverest as the ads often seem to be vegetarian food related (not the same thing at all, not even in the same ball park) although I will admit that some vegan diet options get through. Even then they are not much use to me as the products will all too often be for the US market and I am in the UK. My animal rights activism seems to get picked up as well, with the odd marketing message regarding an anti-cruelty campaign popping up every now and then. But that's about the extent to which Facebook advertisers are gaining an "unprecedented ability" to reach this particular potential audience.
Indeed, so fed up with the poorly targeted advertising that was bombarding me on Facebook did I become that I have started using Ad Block Plus on the site to filter out as many of them as I could. I still get some of the ones that appear as postings in my newsfeed, although Social Fixer has helped removed some of that nonsense as well. This latter advertising method is particularly annoying, poorly targeted and pointless in equal measure it seems to me. For example, perhaps the most common single targeted ad like this that appears in my feed would be that heralding the secrets of body building or some quick way to gain muscle. Usually involving some kind of protein supplement or other. These are annoying as I never asked for them and they clutter my feed, which is meant to be made up of items from members OF my social network not items dumped on me by THE social network marketing department. These are poorly targeted as I am not a bodybuilder, nor am some skinny geek: I'm 6'1" and 13.5 stones of tattooed loveliness. They are also poorly targeted when you consider that the oh so clever Facebook advertising algorithm is apparently already aware that I am vegan yet these supplements are nothing of the kind. And finally, these are pointless because they do not fool me into thinking they are part of my friends feed, which one assumes is the aim otherwise why bother unless to avoid filtration, quite the opposite as they stick out like a sore thumb.
I used the bodybuilding secrets example here for a very good reason, apart from the fact it's the most common ad that I actually see at the moment on Facebook, and that's because while researching this story I came across Jeff Bercovici, a writer with Forbes, who is being hit with exactly the same 'bodybuilder secrets' type of misguided advertising as I am. So I really fail to see how Facebook is heralding a new era of anything here other than, as Bercovici quite rightly points out, a much spammier social network.
And that's got to be a bad thing for online advertisers as a whole, as recent research here in the UK reveals: 69% of respondents said that online advertising had become more intrusive over the last two years and 38% stated that while they were not currently aware of adblocking software they would be interested in using such tools to reduce their exposure to online adverts. As Till Faida, co-founder of Adblock Plus, says "we can see a direct link between the growing intrusiveness of online adverts and people's desire to find ways to block them when using the Internet. This should not surprise us, but it is a fact that many web site owners seem to be ignoring. It is actually in web owners and advertisers interest to develop advertising that does not drive people to take blocking measures."