Why agencies shouldn’t sweat Meta’s ad targeting changes

Beyond the need to adhere to local regulations, removing sensitive targeting options is more of an opportunity to explore more effective methods.

Last week, Meta – the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger – announced that it was removing thousands of targeting options that enable marketers to deliver ads based on topics such as health, political affiliation, religion or sexual orientation.

In its announcement, the company said that it had heard concerns from advertisers who were worried about the impact it would have on their ability to promote work being done to have a positive change, but that the potential for these targeting options to be used for discriminatory purposes outweighed the benefits.

But when the change kicks in on Jan. 19, it looks like it will have little or no effect on the way agencies in Canada are planning their social media campaigns.

Caroline Bergeron, SVP of digital and data solutions at Horizon Media, says the agency isn’t expecting a major impact on its social activity, as these weren’t targeting parameters that the Canadian team was leaning on.

“We like to take a cautious approach when it comes to the use of data, especially with sensitive categories,” she says. “Canada has strict guidelines when it comes to health and pharmaceutical advertising, and we already avoided using data for any sort of health condition or sensitive health information targeting.”

As for political information, sexual orientation, religious, and race targeting, Bergeron doesn’t recommend using audiences to specifically identify such segments anyway.

“If we need to deliver a message, we might target contextually or focus on interests in certain cultures or languages without directly targeting someone using audiences. Other platforms were already preventing the use of data segments to identify ethnicities, for example, and the recent Facebook announcement aligns with similar changes we have seen in the ad tech space over the past few years.”

Beatriz Cruz, digital performance director for Glassroom, believes the job of the agency is to explore out-of-the-box ideas that leverage AI and aggregated non-identifiable information without compromising on the integrity of campaigns, especially when it comes to polarizing topics and personal preferences or situations.

Because of this, Cruz thinks these recent changes in Facebook’s targeting capabilities represent an opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate an audience strategy toolbox and best practices, even if current campaign settings are not affected.

“We are moving slowly towards an overall paid media landscape where checks and balances are put in place to safeguard user’s privacy and prevent potential discriminatory advertising practices,” she says. “However, most importantly, as advertising professionals we need to ask ourselves if we should be using all the data and audiences available to us? We need to reflect more deeply on the cost of doing it from a societal standpoint.”