Reading about how online ads work and the mistakes they can make really made me reflect on situations I’ve seen it fail. Though I’ve seen countless examples of this, a lot of the ones I remember clearly are from Facebook. Many times I not only feel the ads I see on Facebook are irrelevant, but I also have trouble finding out where they come from… but perhaps further examination can clear up where they went wrong.
It’s nothing new for me to see ads for dating websites when on Facebook. The best I can gather is that, because my profile says I’m single, Facebook assumes I’m looking for a girlfriend. The ads are at least correct is assuming I’m a straight male, though that much can easily be gathered from my profile. However, for about a year I constantly would see ads for Muslim dating sites. I am in no way Islamic. My profile states I’m a Christian, which explains why I sometimes see ads for Christian dating sites, but contradicts the ads for Muslim dating sites. Sometimes ads appear because multiple friends have clicked like for them, but none of them have clicked like for any of the Muslim dating sites. In fact, only one of my friends is Islamic, and I hardly talk to her (in addition to the fact that she lives in California, quite far from Rochester, NY). I haven’t posted anything written in Arabic, nor do I appear to even look Islamic (or even Middle Eastern for that matter). I simply cannot understand where the assumption was derived from that I would be interested in Muslim dating sites. Quite clearly this was a failure on the advertising end, and would easily have been rectified; an ad like this should appear only on profiles stating the individual is a single Muslim.
The worst part is that I clicked the “x” to get rid of the ads, stating the reason being they were against my views. It would be great if that got rid of the ads permanently, but the next time I logged onto Facebook, the ads were back. I tried multiple times to get rid of them, so clearly the system did not remember my preferences, which might not be a linguistic problem but is a problem nonetheless.
Another good example is IAmAMormon.com. An ad for this website appeared repeatedly on my profile for quite awhile. I am not a Mormon. Once again, I am listed as a Christian. Some consider the Mormon religion a branch of Christianity. Ignoring my views on whether it is, and assuming the ad assumes it is, that does not mean all Christians are Mormons. In other words, I gave the website no reason to believe I am a Mormon, nor that I am interested in becoming a Mormon. I will admit I do have one friend that is a Mormon, and it is possible I was speaking to her often at the time this ad would appear, so perhaps that was triggering the ad. However, it should not, as I had never expressed interest in becoming a Mormon, to her or anyone else. Once again, this ad was falsely aimed at me. Perhaps in this case, I had at some point used the word “Mormon” in talking to her, meaning it is very possible that it identified that word and assumed I had an interest in the religion. I feel this ad would be better targeted towards individuals who state, in their profile, that they are Mormons.
Once again, the “x” refused to get rid of the ad, leading me to believe that the “x” does not actually do anything, or that whatever it does is fairly inconsequential. I do believe that the “x” could have a linguistic function, by identifying the key words of the ad, determining which part or parts of it were insignificant to me, and used that for future ad placement. As far as I can identify, it just removes the ad for the rest of the online session.
Another example: ads for research needing gay men with HIV. I only fill one part of that requirement, being that I am a man. My profile clearly states I am interested in women, not men, meaning right off the bat it failed to identify very easy to obtain data, wasting the advertising on someone who is admittedly straight. The HIV part may not have actually been used for placement, as many with HIV don’t publicly state it. Ideally, the ad could be shown for men stating they are gay and have HIV, and thrown out there sometimes for gay men who don’t state they have HIV, but there is no reason I should have gotten it, unless it was assuming I was a closet gay male with HIV. I gave it no reason to assume that, though, so I feel it was another wasted ad.
One of the most recent misplaced ads I’ve gotten on Facebook has been for getting help with my diabetes. FYI, I do not have diabetes. Once again, I hadn’t ever said anything about having diabetes. Granted, this isn’t something that would be noted in one’s profile, but I’ve never posted anything on Facebook that should lead the system to believe I do have diabetes. Another ad that seems to have failed.
I’ve seen Facebook ads fail more times than succeed. I do not know how they decide their placement, but I do know not everyone receives the same ads. Sometimes it guesses right. Sometimes it notes things in my profile that I like, claiming another product is similar and that I should try it. The products have ended up not being very similar, but the ads were placed correctly. However, there are still glaring problems in the ad placement. I think most of these could be fixed by having them look through key parts of the profile, rather than everything posted. Others didn’t seem to look through anything, as for as I could tell, else they would not appear, as I indicated information that clearly contradicted that ads’ requirements. For such a widely used website, Facebook’s ads are very inefficient. There is a lot of marketing opportunity to tap into if someone would simply fix the system.