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Want to Escape ‘People-Based Marketing’? Quit Facebook

July 12, 2015

By now, Advertising Week’s 11th annual conference (AWXI) is in full swing across Manhattan’s most upscale venues. Delegates (or “Super Delegates,” depending on how much your company splashed out for your pass) have descended on the Big Apple to hear speakers such as Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Cosmopolitan’s Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles, and even insufferable celebrity chef Jamie Oliver wax lyrical about the future of advertising.

Quit Facebook

However, what everyone really wants to hear about is Facebook’s new advertising platform, Atlas. Larry explained what this new system involves last week.  Advertisers are practically salivating at the prospect of being able to target specific users with highly customized marketing messages, a practice that Jonathan Nelson, CEO of Atlas early adopter Omnicom Digital, described as “marketing nirvana.” Sounds great, right? For advertisers, most definitely. For users? Not so much.

You Are The Product

As the adage goes, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. This is most definitely the case with Facebook, Google, and all the other “free” services we’ve come to depend upon.

Whenever Facebook introduces a new feature or changes some long-standing functionality, it doesn’t take long before users take to comments sections across the web to voice their displeasure (remember the mandatory switch to the mobile Messenger app?). What many of these users forget is that Facebook is not beholden to its users, but rather its investors. Think things are bad right now? It’s going to get worse. Much worse.

You Hate Facebook Ads…

Despite all the buzz about “people-based marketing” and “highly segmented demographic targeting,” the fact remains that most users don’t like Facebook ads – and this is putting it mildly.

According to a survey conducted last year, 68% of respondents stated that advertising on social networks such as Facebook was “unacceptable,” because they didn’t use social media as a purchasing tool. Furthermore, less than 20% of consumers actually made a purchasing decision after seeing an ad on a social network, and only 9% did so more than once.

Hide Facebook ads

Although Facebook’s targeting has become a lot better than it was during 2011 when Facebook first launched its then-reviled Sponsored Stories, that doesn’t mean Facebook ads have become any more popular. You’ve probably already chosen to “hide” ads in Facebook by specific advertisers or brands, and you’ll also probably have noticed that you can provide Facebook feedback about why you chose to do so.

This was supposedly to gain greater insight into why so many users were hiding ads. Prior to the new feedback feature, most users blocked ads claiming they were “offensive or inappropriate.” Not to get into semantics, but if people don’t use social media as a purchasing tool, then wouldn’t all ads be “inappropriate?”

Regardless, Atlas is inevitably going to piss off a lot of people.

…But Facebook Doesn’t Care

This is going to hurt, but it needs to be said – Facebook couldn’t care less if you hate ads or not. Despite claims that Facebook is “taking into account the specific reason they didn’t want to see that ad, and use that as a signal to inform whether or not we show the ad to other people,” Facebook ads are here to stay – and Atlas is going to make them a lot more invasive.

In Q2 of this year alone, Facebook’s mobile ad business generated $2.91 billion, a year-over-year increase of 61%. Mark Zuckerberg described this as “a good quarter,” and having beaten Wall Street’s expectations, Facebook’s investors likely agreed. This means more ads, more data mining, and more money for Zuck.

Facebook NASDAQ stock ticker ABC News

Image via ABC News

Sure, Atlas could make Facebook ads more relevant, but that doesn’t mean people want to see them. And yes, you could take the time to manually block each and every ad you see in your News Feed, but let’s face it, this soon turns into a lot of work and most people just give up out of frustration.

Ello: A Brave New World? Nope

By now, you’ve almost undoubtedly heard about Ello, the latest (and trendiest) social network. Ello is unashamedly going after people who are tiring of Facebook (and Twitter) ads, promising itself as an alternative to the brand-saturated corporate playground of mainstream social networks.

While I’m deeply skeptical of any online service that has a “manifesto,” it does seem interesting at first glance:

Ello manifesto

Sounds good, right? Not so fast. As several people remarked on Twitter (including Mark Cugini, who was the first person I saw tweet about this), Ello’s privacy policies are already written to allow the burgeoning social network to collect and sell your personal data, undermining the platform’s entire selling point and proving its owners are just as full of shit as everyone else:

Ello privacy policy

Face it – there’s no getting away from being bought and sold, even by platforms that were supposedly built for this very purpose from the beginning.

Cold Turkey

The only way to get away from the type of aggressively individualized social media advertising promised by Atlas is to quit Facebook. While you’re at it, why not stop using Google services, too? Google is unlikely to let Atlas eat away at its precious online ad business for long, so it’s only a matter of time before the folks at Mountain View unveil their own equally intrusive advertising solution.

If you care about your privacy and don’t relish the idea of your personal information being sold to the highest bidder, it’s time to rethink how – and where – you spend your time online.

Dan Shewan

Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.