Recently, my college roommate convinced me to sign up for a race at the end of the upcoming school year called “Tough Mudder.” The self-proclaimed “toughest event on the planet”, was a race originally designed by British Special Forces to test all-around toughness, strength, and stamina. While I would consider myself an above average athlete, I am by no means at the physical level of a professional athlete, Marine, or a marathon runner but Facebook now seems to think so. Ever since I signed up for the Tough Mudder event, every time I sign on to Facebook I see advertisements for Spartan Races, Civilian Military Combines and other extreme events. In fact, these are basically the only advertisements I ever see. Even though it is flattering that Facebook thinks so highly of me and treats me as if I was a world-class athlete, it makes me wonder about the effectiveness of personalized ads on social media networks.
The reality of personalized marketing is that companies have access to a great deal of your personal information. Once companies gain access to this valuable information, they are then capable of segmenting consumers and tailoring advertisements to your likes and needs. Generally you see these personalized ads on the right hand side of your Facebook page after logging in. You have the choice to “like’ them, click on one, remove it (aka replace it), or just ignore it altogether. When companies set up an ad campaign, one in which they pay per click or ad impressions, they have the luxury of being incredibly specific. Advertisers can then narrow down the demographic they are targeting by almost anything they want: age, gender, personal preferences, location, or even their sexual orientation. This can obviously be very helpful to marketers, but can also be off-putting to consumers. There is a large majority of the population that doesn’t appreciate ads pushed in their faces, especially when they are invasive and leave the consumer without self-choice.
Once I noticed the Spartan race advertisements Facebook was presenting to me, I began to take note of other ads. After doing extensive research on Google (not Facebook ) recently on potential spring break locations, sure enough, I began seeing ads for college spring break tourist sites. Curious, I decided to “like” something random so I chose a dog page. Almost immediately I had two ads appear for discounts on pet food. I am not currently in the market for dog food, and certainly wouldn’t buy any online, but I now have a constant barrage of Kibbles N Bits advertisements every time I log into my account. Many people consider these ads intrusive and creepy, while some might think they are quite helpful. Regardless, marketers must be careful with the way they design and display their ads. What an advertiser considers engaging could just as easily be interpreted as crossing the line by consumers who don’t appreciate companies gaining access to personal information they are not intentionally giving out.
From my recent experience as an intern at Curley Direct, one thing I have learned is how powerful of a tool personalization can be. Whether it is through direct mail or Facebook ads, personalization greatly increases response rates, or in this case, click-through rates. For this reason I am appreciative of the capabilities Facebook presents marketers with its advertising, despite the fact that personally I might consider it a bit intrusive. Although I am nervous about the Tough Mudder race next spring, I am at ease knowing I have almost an entire year to prepare myself, and that if I am looking for inspiration or some coaching, I don’t have to look any further than my Facebook page.