When do targeted adverts cross the line?

It is a fact that social media advertising has brought a new meaning to the word “targeting.” I will often tell clients that thanks to Facebook we can target your desired audience down to the smallest detail; their age, occupation, hobbies, net wealth, relationship status, ambitions and so much more. But when does this targeting cross a moral line? When does clever advertising stop and exploitation begin?

It is a common phrase in the Oh So office that “Facebook knows you better than you know yourself.” It knows where you spend time both on and offline, it knows what your friends are doing, it can predict your likelihood to get married or engaged in the near future, and thanks to a little thing call Tinder, which has to be logged into via Facebook, it even knows if you are having an affair.

This weekend I saw an advert that was targeted at me for being recently single. This Instagram ad featured “The Breakup Survival Guide”, a smashed photo of a once loving couple, a box of chocolates, tissues, teddy bears and gossip magazines, every stereotypical thing a girl needs when breaking up with her partner. Along with the caption,

“Breakup with partner. Cry eating chocolate. Watch as much TV as possible. FEEL GREAT. #breakup #overyou #single”

Of course, the perfect ‘breakup’ order.

Facebook knows that this year I ended a serious relationship. It knows that I am single and thanks to its Tinder integration it knows that I go through phases of downloading and deleting the terrifying app, in an attempt to meet someone new in a now virtual dating world (but that’s another blog topic.) All of this information is fair game for advertisers on Facebook and Instagram, which is why I am sure I saw this stunning advert on Sunday evening.

But what Facebook doesn’t know is the pain that break up caused. By showing me that advert, it wasn’t encouraging me to watch the show, or rush out and buy a TV subscription, all it did was hurt me. It reminded me of a terrible breakup and the pain it caused.

I sat there at midnight on a Sunday staring at an advert, which another social media agency would have created, and was probably very proud of. Target the recently single, Tinder users, who like reality TV, it’s an easy win. My pain and reaction would not have crossed their mind. To them they are sharing a reality TV show, where I can laugh off my breakup, while I see others struggle with their exs on a beach.

When in reality they are sending a reminder of my breakup to me, in my personal Instagram feed, in my bedroom late on a Sunday night. Why would it have crossed their mind how messy my recent breakup was? And that this may not be the way to get to me watch? Of course not, they are thinking about their ROI and their targets, but however inadvertently they have still crossed a line from a targeted advert, to a painful dig. One that I was not the only person feeling, with several comments, from the now deleted advert, saying how poorly advised this campaign was.

So who is at blame for this? Who has crossed that moral line? Is it the social networks for encouraging us to share our personal details for them to sell to advertisers? Is it the advertiser for thinking targeting a recently single person with that advert is acceptable? Is it me for sharing so much personal information? Or is it a combination of all of the above?

All social media users are famed for forgetting that there is a person on the other end of the screen, but are we as advertisers in trying to get the best results and return, now forgetting that we are still speaking to people as well? Real life people with thoughts, feeling and life experiences that social media networks will never be able to understand. We are not talking to a screen, we are trying to engage with, support and grow our loyal customers, not kick them while they are down.

So next time when you’re describing your ideal customer and step into the personal elements that we all love social media advertising for, stop to think about the person on the other end of the screen. Will that “likely to get pregnant” person, be someone struggling to conceive and being chased around the web by ‘Clear Blue Adverts’?  Could it be that the ‘single’ person has just lost the love of their life? Is the advert you’re presenting really a clever piece of targeting, or highly inappropriate and brand damaging? The line between this is thin and only you as a brand and business, can decide where you must end it.

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