To Target or Not to Target

September 23rd, 2016 Posted by Advertising, Blog, Marketing, Social Media 1 comment


The news swept the internet like small tornado:  Proctor & Gamble was cutting back its targeted Facebook advertising.  How dare they?  I am sure that some Facebook team members were deeply offended by the brand’s apparent lack of respect for the hundreds of thousands of hours they spent developing these tools for advertisers.  I am sure that some advertisers were shocked and amazed at the move.  I am also sure that many others in both fields understood the move as simple common sense.

Let us state the obvious: targeting is an important tool in digital advertising.  However, to what extent it facilitates and to what extent it hinders the reception of our ads is not only up for debate, but it also depends on who we are, and what we want to accomplish.

Facebook has done a terrific job at creating targeting categories that allow us to be very specific in our audience crafting. They have also made it adjustable through “in-flight” editing.  You can edit your audience at any point during the life of your ad based on whatever your data are telling you. I can’t recommend enough paying close attention to the insights. They will give you a real sense of who is seeing your ad and how they are perceiving it.

Use your intuition too.  It is not preposterous to make assumptions about your audience and the audience that you want to reach.  Run a couple of experiments, and guess away!  Guess what they like, where they live, how much they make, etc.  The results will tell you how right or wrong you were. However, the most important thing, and one that you cannot leave to guess work is knowing who the brand is, and what it provides, no matter if it is your own brand or a client’s.

This is what has allowed Proctor & Gamble to cut back on targeted ads, and invest more on “blanket” ads that reach a much broader audience.  They know who they are: a universal brand that creates a lot of products that almost everyone can use.[i]  They have global reach, and they want to insert themselves and stay in people’s minds around the world, regardless of whatever demographic classification those people could be assigned.

Here are some tips from our own experiences with Facebook targeted ads:

  • If your brand (or the client’s) has global reach or wants to gain global reach, be less restrictive in geographical parameters. You can always adjust your audience in other ways.
  • Know what the brand has to offer and target people who have shown interest in similar products/services/organizations (this is a “Duh!” truism, so forgive me for including it)
  • If you are working with a client that only has local or regional reach, make sure that you know all about that area: the names of the cities, the sports teams, landmarks, local heroes, the local competitors, and more. Why?
  • Because you should use your imagination when crafting your audience. Make it broad for larger reach by including interests that may seem random to a lay person.
  • Know what at least three very different users/clients/customers like and are interested in. The more you know about them, the more likely your ad will be shown to them.
  • If your client is Proctor & Gamble
    1. Congratulations!
    2. Abandon all targeting!

These, of course, do not account for the randomness that can be Facebook’s targeting algorithm, and they do not guarantee automatic success.  Experiment!  Build at least two experimental audiences.  Run ads. Look at the results. Learn.

This is how we have done it.

[i] There are, obviously, complications that come from using such broadly distributed ads; issues related to language, and culture and timing, for example.  Those can be discussed at another time.


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