Facebook has launched the “Off-Facebook Activity” feature in August 2019. This allows users to prevent advertisers from capturing their data on websites (via the Facebook Pixel), sending the data back to Facebook, and targeting ads on the basis of that data. This is against the backdrop of privacy concerns and criticisms that Facebook has had to address especially since the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
This latest move will no doubt have an adverse impact on your ability to conduct targeted advertising. But how concerned should you be? I believe that there should be little cause for concern for the following reasons…
Micro-targeting is over-hyped
I had explained in a previous article that ad targeting is important (even more so than ad creatives). But, there has been too much hype over the years about the benefits of being able to micro-target customers. In the extreme case, if Facebook rolls out additional widely-adopted privacy features for users, it may just become a mass media advertising platform like traditional newspapers, TV, and radio.
Marketing effectiveness researchers Les Binet and Peter Field have identified in their 2013 work, The Long and the Short of it, that campaigns with a broader reach outperform targeted campaigns in driving long-term success. They’ve also determined that maximum effectiveness is delivered when companies spend just 40% of their ad budget on short-term activation campaigns (typically associated with targeted campaigns) and 60% of their ad budget on long-term brand building campaigns (typically associated with broader mass media campaigns).
Advertisers who understand this point should not be overly concerned with a diminished ability to target. And this makes intuitive sense — a business that takes a broader approach will be better able to increase their reach, build a stronger brand, and convert more customers over the longer term.
Adoption rate will be low
If we learnt anything from previous «privacy» features that Facebook has built, it is that these features are unlikely to be adopted broadly by its users. In all likelihood, the recent feature will be found and used by only a small number of privacy-conscious users who are still on the platform and who have not participated in the 2018 #DeleteFacebook campaign.
Whilst the recent “Off-Facebook Activity” feature is intended to be rolled out to the rest of the world in the coming months, it is initially being trialled in only four countries (Ireland, South Korea and Spain). I expect that Facebook will be keeping a close eye on adoption rates, and ensuring that any impact on Facebook advertisers is minimal.
Other targeting data still available
The recent feature only allows users to restrict advertisers’ ability to target them with ads based on data gathered on external websites. This does not prevent advertisers from serving targeted ads using data gathered on the Facebook platform. This includes demographic, interest, and behavioural (e.g. video views) data.
In fact, my general approach to Facebook advertising is a combination of mass advertising (using broad demographics) and on-platform retargeting based on behaviour (e.g. someone watching or interacting with the initial ad). This strategy that has worked so well for me and my clients will continue to be unaffected by the recent privacy feature.