eMarketer has predicted a 39% increase in advertising spend on Facebook for 2010. The popularity of advertising on social networks is primarily based on the notion that sites like Facebook have a great deal of data on their users and this information can be exploited to deliver highly targeted ads to its huge user base. In theory, it makes a great deal of sense. Afterall, users are going crazy and sharing every little detail of their personal lives on these sites so why not leverage that information for marketing to them? In fact, Facebook goes on to claim that businesses should advertise on the site because:
“People treat Facebook as an authentic part of their lives, so you can be sure you are connecting with real people with real interest in your products.”
If that’s true, it’s absolutely baffling why the site serves up inane and irrelevant ads when you browse through it. Take a look at the ads on these 2 fan pages - Microsoft and BMW. You’ll notice that ads on the right have no relation to the content on these fan pages. One’s pitching designer handbags (never mind that I am looking at a software fan page) and the other one serves up a list of ads with the only unifying theme being they all have pictures of women (Did I mention that I am a woman?! How clever of them to figure that out).
As if those 2 examples weren’t enlightening enough, the ads on the Harvard Business Review fan page are just mind-boggling. I am baffled as to the connection between HBR and pets. And no, there’s no information in my Facebook profile about my imaginary or real pets.
One would think there are advertisers in similar or related categories who would be interested in marketing to the same audience but apparently, that’s not the case on Facebook. Of course, one can just blame the clueless advertisers who don’t know how to optimize their targeting but when you look at the target filters Facebook offers, you soon realize their limitations. The site says you can,
“Target your exact audience with demographic and psychographic filters about real people.”
I am a “real” person, a female of “certain age” who also happens to be interested in luxury cars and operating systems (gasp!). Under Facebook’s current ad model, no matter which page/group I am on, it only serves up ads based on my profile. As an user, it’s annoying but as an advertiser, I would be very concerned about displaying ads to an uninterested audience and with zero context.
So here’s my theory: Facebook either has a very low inventory of ads and that’s why they cycle through the limited number of available but irrelevant ads or the ad targeting model is fundamentally flawed. In either case, I seriously doubt that advertising on Facebook is any more effective than other advertising options like paid search or contextual ads on traditional sites.
I’ll try to get some data from businesses who’re currently advertising on Facebook and post the findings here as a follow up. If you want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below.