Facebook Ads: A Case Study

February 1, 2009 at 10:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(originally written December 25, 10:45 pm)

I’ve been having weird, Big Brother-esque experiences with Facebook ads recently. I know that they must use complex algorithms and micro-targeting to figure out which people should see each ad, but it’s gotten to the point that it’s really starting to creep me out.

A very unscientific study of the variety of ads I was shown revealed some patterns that seemed obvious, and other that were more impressive—and, for that matter, more creepy. For example, in ten page refreshes (which amounted to 24 total advertisements), I was shown four ads for engagement or promise rings—that’s 17 percent! (If you add in the Hello Kitty jewelry ad—because who knows, maybe I’m the Mariah Carey type—it goes up to 21 percent.) I seriously feel like I see engagement ring ads about every three clicks, but this trend doesn’t surprise me, since I’m sure anyone who’s In A Relationship for a certain period of time gets targeted as such.

Some of the ads were way off, and laughably so. A great example is Philip Morris Careers—seriously?! Thanks but no thanks, Facebook, I like my lungs the way they are.

A few of the ads made sense based on my profile, like offering me merchandise from “The Office” when I have the show listed as a favorite on my page. But then there were those that were the so awesome, so perfect, so HOW THE HELL COULD FACEBOOK KNOW THAT kind of ads. Like Hamlet 2. How could Facebook know that my brother once dressed as Sexy Jesus for a comic book convention and that I have waited for the flick to go to DVD so I can finally see what it was all about?? And John Edwards—he’s my boy! (Maybe I should finally resign myself to using the past tense… *sigh*) How did Facebook know that?

By far *the* creepiest thing that a Facebook ad has ever done to me is understand an inside joke. I have photographic evidence:

Not cool, Facebook. Not cool.

So, somehow Facebook figured out that my status was a reference to the 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon meets “Oprah” on a plane and hears a list of her new favorite things… and then their computer system figured out that it should send me an ad about one of Oprah’s REAL favorite things. Holy shit! FACEBOOK, HOW?? Tell me your secrets! I really think, after these experiences, that their folks should enter the Netflix million dollar contest. Seriously.

EDIT: The other ad that I forgot to mention that continues to baffle me as to how I was targeted so perfectly is the one with the headline, “Like retro style?” that links to Mod Cloth. Why yes Facebook, yes I DO love retro style! Unless it’s been analyzing my photos to figure out what I like to wear, there is nary a mention of my preference for retro fashion on my profile. My only guess is perhaps the fact that, under Favorite Music, I list “Motown”…

[ screenshot from Facebook ]

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