Online targeted advertising algorithms can have serious reputational consequences for brands
When in late May women’s groups fired off some 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails to advertisers, protesting against their presence on Facebook pages glorifying violence against women, the giant social networking site did more than acknowledge the complaints. It took action – though only after the likes of American Express and Nissan suspended their marketing campaigns.
Organisers of the online protest declared victory, with Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project writing in the Financial Times of the considerable risks posed by a new form of “targeted” advertising now present on most social media.
“The response of several companies, such as Dove, who said they would ask for their ads to be removed from the pages in question, but would not pull them from Facebook altogether, showed a fundamental lack of understanding of how this advertising works,” wrote Bates.
Targeted advertising identifies that a person is likely to buy a particular product, and then automatically places ads for that product on whatever page he or she visits. It’s why Facebook users see advertisements on their profile page that are tailored to their gender, music taste, or location. But because those ads follow users wherever they go, the reputational risk is...