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Facebook Special Ad Audience: Just The Facts

August 12, 2019 Kathy Bryan

Facebook has begun rolling out Special Ad Audience targeting, a new targeting system that helps brands avoid discriminatory practices by utilizing online behavior instead of personal attribute data.

What Is A Facebook Special Ad Audience?

A Facebook Special Ad Audience is an audience with a high propensity to take action based on targeted online behavior instead of personal attribute data.

Why Did Facebook Create Special Ad Audience Targeting?

Many Facebook advertisers have built out detailed targeting based on assumed or historical performance, identifying audiences with the greatest propensity to engage with a brand. Unfortunately, unintentional discrimination can occur when propensity-based targeting restricts ads from being displayed to protected classes, including race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age or disability. Facebook’s new targeting policy for special categories is helping to ensure advertisers and Facebook do not discriminate with ad targeting.

The Facebook Special Ad Audience targeting tool is designed to reduce the risk of discrimination that can come from targeted ads in certain “special categories,” including credit, employment and housing. For advertisers within these special categories, targeting options that could result in discrimination, like Lookalike Audiences, have been removed and advertisers are instead encouraged to create Special Ad Audiences.

"Our policies already prohibit advertisers from using our tools to discriminate," Facebook said after the settlement with civil rights group in March of 2019. "We've removed thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion. But we can do better." The Facebook Special Ad Audience targeting is one example of Facebook taking action to “do better.”

What Targeting Options Are Restricted With Facebook Special Ad Audiences?

In addition to removing Lookalike Audience options for advertisers within the defined special categories, the following targeting options have been restricted:

  • Locations: Ads can be targeted by geographic regions but not by zip code.
  • Age: All ages 18+ must be included within special category campaigns.
  • Gender: No genders can be excluded.
  • Detailed Targeting: Additional targeting options that could result in intentional or unintentional discriminatory practices may be restricted for special category campaigns.

What Special Categories Are Required To Use Facebook Special Ad Audiences?

Facebook has defined special categories to include credit, housing and employment marketers. However, they have noted that the list of special category marketers is not limited only those categories.

  • Credit: Campaigns promoting credit opportunities, including credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, long-term financing and personal or business loan services are defined as special categories.
  • Employment: Campaigns promoting or linking to employment opportunities, including internships and professional certification programs, fall within Facebook’s special category classification. Related employment topics, such as job fairs or job boards, are also considered special categories.
  • Housing And Related Services: Any ads related to housing or home services fall into the special categories definition. This category includes sales, rentals, insurance, loans and related services.

How Will Facebook Special Ad Audiences Impact Marketers Who Advertise On Facebook?

For advertisers with active Facebook special category campaigns, the new special ad audiences may dramatically impact campaign performance. By broadening Facebook targeting, advertisers may be suddenly forced to show their Facebook ads to audiences less likely to convert than in the past. However, it’s also possible marketers will realize their Facebook targeting was too narrow previously, and the new Special Ad Audiences will help scale Facebook campaign performance.

Regardless of the campaign metrics, Facebook Special Ad Audiences will help special category marketers comply with the law when it comes to discrimination.

How Can Marketers Avoid Being Regularly Impacted By Facebook Targeting Policy Changes?

In reaction to public outcry regarding their use of data, Facebook has made a number of recent changes regarding targeting options available to advertisers on their platform. Unfortunately, relying on Facebook data for targeting puts advertisers at continued risk, because marketers cannot always anticipate or control when their campaigns will be severely impacted by targeting changes. Advertisers who instead rely on their own first-party data are insulated when it comes to targeting and algorithm changes across the top advertising platforms.

According to Jonathan Katz, Chief Media Officer at Digital Media Solutions, “Recent changes by Facebook involving the promotion and targeting of political ads illustrates the importance of owning their own first-party data… In the ever-shifting social media landscape, relying on your own first-party data also puts the control where it should be — with you.”

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For recent Facebook changes, updates and industry news visit our Facebook for Digital Marketers news page.

About the Author

Kathy Bryan

Kathy Bryan is the EVP, Head of Corporate Marketing at Digital Media Solutions (DMS). In this role, Kathy is responsible for all aspects of marketing and communications for DMS, the largest single entry point for marketers seeking scalable and reliable, martech-enabled digital media distribution.

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