Online Advertising

The Darker side of social media ads

Let’s talk a bit about how advertising, and by that, I mean traditional advertising, is being overthrown by the increasing part of Internet use in our daily life. Besides, as contents and tools become even more numerous, we have to wonder if we are not facing consumers’ mistrust regarding digital ads? First, according to Harvey Balls (study from a US perspective), Internet has, to date, a major and consistent impact on our daily consumer life, more than on any other sector. For instance, Internet is gaining momentum in education, but at a lower rate. One aspect that has been introduced by Internet revolution is the use of social media, a term that did not exist back in 2000.

Let’s focus here on Social media ads, which are predominantly represented by Facebook and Twitter ads. Morgan Stanley made a research on this topic. Figures are quite impressive. While Monthly Active Users are following a quite stable trend (13% increase on Year over Year basis for Q1 2015 on Facebook, and 18% increase on the same basis for Twitter), Advertising Average Revenue per User has reached $9.36 for Q1 2015 on Facebook (+29% vs. Q1 2014) and $5.14 for Q1 2015 on Twitter (+45% vs. Q1 2014). Such revenue amounts may seem a bit low to some, but in fact when you multiply it by the number of people using these platforms, it is quite impressive.

You would agree that these revenue streams are OK. In fact, they are more than OK. Facebook ads are of utmost importance, both for Facebook and for brands. This is why Facebook has developed a broad variety of tools and ways of making advertising (Remember the latest improvements: Buy button, Auto-play instream video etc.). As mere users, do you know that Facebook has implemented what is called “Dark posts” to enable brands to present more personalized ads to its users? Please do not be afraid of it, “Dark posts” are not in any way related to dark web or any weird depth of the Internet. They only refer to the principles of A/B Testing, applied to Facebook.

For any digital newbie who is currently reading this, let’s get back to Digital Marketing 101. A/B Testing is a marketing technique allowing brands to get the most of a promotion method by creating two ways (Way A and Way B). Then, they test them within the same conditions to know which one performed better to implement it at a wider scale. Facebook Dark posts are A/B Testing Facebook ads, but with a slight twist.

This slight twist makes them even more interesting for marketers. Indeed, you can run as many Dark posts as you need for your brand (as a matter of fact, it can be more like A/Z testing if you want to), but more importantly you decide the conditions of implementation of every ad you display (different targeted groups, even according to geographic or demographic attributes). The point here is that you can display a wide range of creatives for each specific category, and the best is yet to come.

Dark posts are named after the fact that they are not visible on the Advertiser’s Facebook page. Thus, if you are targeted with a dark post, you can look for this very post as long as you want on one brand’s page, you will not find it, which is in fact kind of dark and shadowy for the average Facebook user. For brand, it is a genius gift : let’s say that you are a brand willing to promote a new item by creating two different ads which fit two different targeted audience, then you do not have to show your two ads on your page – which could have been disturbing for your fan base.

This is a case in point for marketers, but is it the same for consumers? Trust is an issue raised in our digital era where everyone can express himself freely. Social medias allow brands to engage with consumers more directly. This is why consumers are not willing to be victim of dark manoeuvres from them.

Talking about social media ads, I cannot help mentioning another big player that has entered the market quite recently. Indeed, Instagram has just launched its own version of advertising, after many years of tests and above all after showing that they were reluctant to implement it on their platform. It is obvious that Instagram users only want to see polished photos, thus they are suspicious regarding advertising.

It took a long time before being implemented as Instagram wanted to offer very qualitative and targeted advertising, in order not to bother users when they scroll along their Instagram newsfeed. Indeed, Instagram business model was all about user generated photos, allowing famous Instagrammers to be brand ambassadors, far from the idea of traditional advertising. The aim since September seems to get closer to Facebook’s advertising model, but we can wonder if it would not undermine Instagram by lowering content quality…

About the author

Stéphanie Euzen

Stéphanie Euzen

→ Advertising and media coordinator @Chanel
→ GEM '16 Digital Business Strategy student
→ Found of digital advertising and new inspiring stuff