I have recently tripped a wire in Facebook’s ad-targeting tool. Or so the ads Facebook is showing me would suggest.
Perhaps it was a cookie I picked up during my recreational Internet browsing – a souvenir from a web server in the remotest part of Estonia. Or maybe it’s because the social network recently launched Facebook Look-alike targeting wherein they run ads at users whose profiles or behavior matches that of an advertiser’s current customers.
However it happened, the ads I’m being served recently feel more like MySpace c. 2005 than Facebook 2013, i.e. a whole lot of either scantily-clad women or shirtless, oily dudes.
For example, a bit of this:
…and a whole bunch of this:
Interestingly, the way these sexy people are being presented to me indicates that Facebook isn’t entirely convinced that I’m interested in women, as I have declared in my account profile. The ads are paired-up adjacently, suggesting that Facebook wanted me to pick a team:
I saw these coupled ads over-and-over, as if Facebook was saying, “Hey, we’re not saying you’re gay. But then again, we’re not saying you’re not…”
It’s kind of like going to the sexual preference optometrist:
Doctor: “okay, which one is better, A…or B? Here’s A again….and B…”
Me: “Hmmm…it’s so close. Can I see B again just to be sure?”
Now I couldn’t be completely sure that The Eagle was a gay-targeted ad without looking at their page. Really – I’m not that up on pop culture these days, so it could have been an ad for really fit guys who like suspenders. Or maybe it was ad for a totally straight clothing brand like Abercrombie.
Like I said – who knows? What do I have to lose? I’m almost completely confident in straight-ness, so I let my mouse click on the ad.
I was greeted by the best cover photo of any Facebook page I’ve ever seen: a dude’s hairy chest (no face) with double nipple-piercings in some sort of harness.
“Okay,” I thought, “The Eagle is a gay bar, and I’m leaving this page right now…..just as soon as I finish reading their post about next week’s Jock Strap Wednesday party, from 10:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m.”
Oddly, my only concern after reading it was: “who’s got the energy to stay up that late?”
So it’s official, I’m in some kind of new ad-targeting ‘bucket’ for hook-up ads. Perhaps this target bucket is called “People who like the sexy-time” (sounds better if you say it with a Russian accent) or “Guys who aren’t quite as straight as they think” (sounds less good in a Russian accent).
You might be wondering: does my new profile follow me to Facebook mobile? You bet it does!
I find the whole thing pretty funny, but the sexy ads and the targeting are of note because they represent a meaningful change in Facebook’s policy.
When I sold for Facebook (2007-2011), we operated under strict rules about sexual orientation and targeting. Dating services like Match.com could only target ads to users who had specifically stated their sexual orientation and then only with ad copy specific thereto.
This was one of the line-in-the-sand policies that distinguished Facebook from MySpace at a time when Facebook was the social media challenger. It sent the message that Facebook was committed to leveraging and respecting personal data in service of creating an ad experience better than any that existed to that point on the Internet.
The ads I’m seeing now indicate that Facebook may have added the following caveat to the policy: “…unless the ads in question are full of smokin’ hot-tays – wooooo!!!” (say it like you’re reading it on MySpace)
I assume, however, that the ads in question are the result of Facebook working the kinks out of its new Look-alike targeting. Even so, it begs the question “what behavior of mine looks like that of the current customers for the brands running these ads?”
Is it the songs I’m streaming on my FB-Connected Spotify account? Not to indulge in stereotypes, but for a straight guy, I do listen to a lot of Madonna.
Was it all the searches I did recently for “big data?” You may be thinking “what’s wrong with that?” but it turns out that “Big Data” is actually Larry Ellison’s nickname for his penis.
Oh wait – I know what it was – it was that weekend my wife was out-of-town. The specifics are a bit fuzzy – all I remember is waking up on the couch with my laptop open to the “Young Lacrosse Hunks” Facebook Page. But I don’t think that should count because the night before I had gotten pretty hammered on Zima and Luna bars (the Lemon Zest are the yummiest).
Anyway, I’m going to take this whole thing as a compliment. Even if the nuance is way off, at least Facebook thinks I’m still young and virile enough to swing. And swinging really is what it’s all about….especially if it’s 2005 and you’re on MySpace.
Still, it makes me miss the good ol’ days when the Facebook ads that embarrassed me most were the ads that were, by contrast, very well-targeted: