Social ad transparency: a review

What will the planned Twitter and Facebook ad transparency mean for brands?
Ishbel Macleod, marketing manager, chats the change in social transparency policy

Ishbel Macleod, marketing manager, chats the change in social transparency policy

I don’t have a baby. I’m not a fan of the opera. So an advert for an ‘operatic adventure’ for six to 18-month-olds isn’t really up my street. Yet, I’ve been served an advert for this three times in the past month.

When I clicked ‘why am I seeing this?’ it turns out it is because I am a ‘woman aged 25 to 40 who lives or has recently been near Glasgow’. Busted. But how about targeting those who, oh, I don’t know – have a child?

We’ve all been targeted by a Facebook ad that makes you slightly confused. You know the one – it has nothing to do with your interests, and you wonder what exactly you’ve liked to fit the target profile.

At the moment, you can click to see why the ad is being served to you (such as living in an area) – but Facebook and Twitter have recently announced plans to take this a step further and increase transparency.

Twitter’s transparency plans

Twitter revealed its plans for a ‘transparency centre’ in a blog on 24 October, which is set to include visibility into who is advertising on Twitter, details behind those ads, and tools to share any feedback with Twitter.

The centre will show all the ads that are running on Twitter, how long they have been active, the creative associated with these ads, and personalised information on which ads you are eligible to receive based on targeting.

Political and election ads will have an even more stringent transparency process – including total campaign ad spend by advertiser. The social media giant also hinted that it was updating its policies for electoral advertising – so that all ads must clearly identify themselves.

What seems to be a very interesting feature of the new transparency plan is that users will be able to report inappropriate ads or give negative feedback (i.e. “I don’t like this ad”) for every ad running on Twitter – whether they are targeted towards the user or not.

This could lead to some level of ‘bandwagon-jumping’, with people giving feedback on ads that they had to actually seek out.

Facebook’s transparency plans

Speaking of bandwagon-jumping, Facebook announced on 27 October that it is also extending its transparency for ads.

This is beginning with electoral ads, with advertisers required to identify that they are running election-related advertising, and also verify both their entity and location. According to Business Insider, Facebook also plans to build an archive of federal-election related ads so that it can track both current and past ads – including spend, reach and target audience.

But wait – there’s more! The social giant is about to test a new feature in Canada which will allow people to see the ads a Facebook business page is running – even if they are not targeted towards the user.

In a blog post, Rob Goldman, VP of ads for Facebook, explained: “People will be able to click “View Ads” on a Page and view ads a Page is running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger — whether or not the person viewing is in the intended target audience for the ad. All Pages will be part of this effort, and we will require that all ads be associated with a Page as part of the ad creation process.”

What do these changes mean for brands?

Why are all these changes coming out now? The American mid-term elections take place in November, and after the news that over 10m people saw political ads bought by a Russian internet agency in the run up to the US election, it is no surprise the platforms want to up their transparency levels.

In terms of brands, it will make it easier to see what competitors are up to and who they are targeting. It will also make it easier to see roughly how many posts are sponsored – which can make it easier to gauge just how much is being spent on advertising. It basically gives them an insight into the marketing strategy.

The bad news? Your competitors will be able to do the same to you.

This can also mean that ads targeted towards different areas can all be seen if someone cares to go looking: meaning there is no hiding changes in ad copy or images for different regions or age groups. Now, this should not cause any problems for the majority of brands, but I predict there will be at least one brand caught out for how it targets towards regions.

Brands that tend to focus on ‘dark ads’, as opposed to sponsoring organic posts, to deliver more relevant ads this won’t have a huge effect – as only those who deliberately go digging will see the targeting.

More transparency is normally a good thing, but – especially at the start – I expect that brands and political advisors will be a bit more cautious about advertising and how the details will be shared.

One final downside for brands? They will no doubt be faced by a mountain of sales pitches from marketing tools which claim they can analyse all the dark posts from competitors! I look forward to trying out the new features when they are launched…and getting myself taken off the baby opera list!