The story of granular targeted online advertising (good and evil)

us election map
Where the votes went in the 2016 US presidential election. The highly focused demographic targeting (and Russian influence) are behind the current controversies and scandals about targeted online advertising campaigns.

Recently, Facebook and Twitter have come under fire for advertising campaigns designed to play to the emotions of selected groups often based on less-than-ideal ethics. The “fake news” and Russian meddling scandals relate in part to highly focused advertising purchases to associate messages (often falsified) to audiences where demographics and education suggest they would have resonance (and where their votes would count to sway elections).

More seriously, the campaigns could be designed to appeal to racism, hate, and other evil things.

Facebook has responded by removing some targeting options.

But this change has the paradoxical effect of removing perhaps one of the best resources for legitimate online marketers hoping to reach a highly defined audience relatively inexpensively.

In the old days, the only way you could hope for this level of intense focus and specialization would be through direct mail — where you could buy lists based on demographics and interests (perhaps because the users subscribe to specific special-interest publications.)

This form of advertising, while effective, was very expensive, both in researching the necessary details and in cost. And while you could expect a reasonably quick response, it would be nowhere as fast as the powerful and immediate impact of targeted online advertising.

Of course, while it is now harder to get the highly focused demographics in your Facebook advertising selection, it is clear that you can certainly get much closer to specific target groups with much lower cost than with traditional media, unless that media itself is highly focused in its audience/interests. (This variable helps my business stay off the chopping block.You presumably would find the demographics for relevant if you are seeking the types of people who would be interested in purchasing or contracting construction-related services in Canada’s capital city.)

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