Facebook’s Trust Crash & The Case for Ethical Targeting



GDPR and browser-cookie-blocking mean we’re in sore need of an alternative to targeting the individual. Contrary to what some have argued though, that doesn’t mean throwing out any kind of data or targeting completely.”


Advertising and marketing scores worst out of any industry for consumer trust. Let that sink in. According to a poll cited in the same piece, Facebook is now at the bottom of that pile - by far the least trusted of brands to handle customer data.

It had seemed like Cambridge Analytica-gate passed with little more serious than a trail of “Senator, we run ads” gifs. But in the light of Facebook’s latest earnings call, things look slightly less rosy. Earning targets have been missed and US user growth is flat, declining by the millions in Europe. Could users leaving be related to a crash in trust? Between its four major apps, ditching Facebook completely is hardly an option for consumers. But with GDPR still to fully make its presence felt, opting out of personal targeting may be another matter. And that has major implications for the rest of the ad world too.  

In summarising the trust meltdown the ad industry currently faces, eMarketer’s Geoff Ramsey calls for three steps to start rebuilding around. As opposed to the intrusive use of personal data and microtargeting, they are consistent with a more sustainable approach, something we call ethical targeting. It’s interesting to note that Facebook’s latest ad campaign is heavily focused around one of them, trying to prove they are now taking close care of the customer, and by extension their data.


A Red Thread to Advertising

As with any reputational damage, you might still hope that time is the great healer. But the problem is serious enough that at least one media agency is taking action. In an interview this month with AdExchanger, Hearts & Science CEO Scott Hagedorn spoke about brands taking a stand against apps that encourage addiction. He also referenced fake news, Cambridge Analytica and how both phenomena probably go further than just Facebook:



There are more fake Facebook and Twitter profiles than people in several pretty big countries. The scary thing is: We buy them. Those identities are active. They are sometimes promoting and messaging disinformation and chaos. There is a red thread back to advertising and marketing.”


It's worth reading the interview in full, to understand how one party at least seems to be putting its head above the parapet. Hearts & Science is also grappling with the difference between simple reach and positive attention – even describing areas it shies away from (TV and social advertising in the small hours for instance). Tackling such ‘negative reach’ is just one of the issues Hearts & Science is building a differentiated ad business around. And a  successful one too. 

Positive Reach & Ethical Targeting

So much for fraud, fake news and app addiction. That just leaves a definition of what genuinely positive reach looks like. Ethical targeting might be part of the answer.

Current advertising discussions overwhelming centre around programmatic. And programmatic in turn is almost exclusively focused on gathering and targeting based on personal data. So much so, the idea of using technology to develop or build campaigns without personal information no longer seems like an option. Or rather, it has hardly even been considered up to this point. Even by those naysayers who shout about the dark side of programmatic – perhaps it’s time to start suggesting alternatives too?

GDPR and browser-cookie-blocking mean we’re in sore need of an alternative to targeting the individual. Contrary to what some have argued though, that doesn’t mean throwing out any kind of data or targeting completely. If our focus were to shift to context or content-level targeting instead, we should learn from the mistakes of the past. That means using data to lean more towards the serendipity of offline targeting than the repetition and predictability of retargeting. After all, retargeting is arguably one of the main reasons we have ad blocking.

Sticking Plaster or Outright Change?

Returning for a moment to Ramsey’s three step programme for advertising to start rebuilding around, they are:

1. Buyers taking more control of context.
2. A greater focus on 1st party over 3rd party data.
3. Brands to take more care of the customer (aka don’t be creepy.)

All three suggestions could find their solution in ethical targeting – understanding context in real-time, without resorting to 3rd party data use. They may also be the first step to a better future. Where advertising and marketing is no longer an industry even less trusted than insurance firms or big oil.

In response to some disappointing Q2 numbers, Facebook cooked up a brand new metric. “family audience” might well mask stagnating user growth on its original social app. But as we see so often in advertising, what’s really needed is not a sticking plaster to save face with investors, but an outright change in course to regain customer trust.

Senator, we run ethical ads. illuma uncovers relevant audiences and new prospects, without personal data – get in touch for more info, or to set up a product trial.