Just two months after running a full-page ad decrying Apple’s impending updates, Facebook is rolling out another campaign meant to defend the targeted ads that make up about 98% of its multi-billion dollar revenue stream.
Per CNBC, the one-minute ad will air across digital platforms, radio, and television starting today. Facebook says the spot is meant to highlight “how personalised ads are an important way people discover small businesses on Facebook and Instagram,” and “how these ads help small businesses grow from an idea into a livelihood.”
You can give it a watch below:
The ad features a few stand-ins for the small businesses that seemingly rely on Facebook’s ad-targeting tech for their livelihoods. There’s one woman who’s shown using Instagram ads to promote her goat farm to people who want to give goat yoga a try. There’s a pair of influencers shown advertising an indie bag brand that — as Facebook points out — doesn’t only pay homage to her West African background, but also supports “empowerment work” in the region. All the while, Grace Jones (yes, the Grace Jones) does some spoken word about how wonderful ad targeting is, and how it brings these sorts of interesting businesses to people’s attention. The end of the spot then directs viewers to a dedicated site that reminds us right at the top that “good ideas deserve to be found.”
This is Facebook’s latest attempts to butter up users ahead of Apple’s planned rollout of certain anti-tracking tools meant to give iOS users a but more transparency and control over the data that their apps are allowed to collect. Since this past summer, Facebook has argued at every possible opportunity to argue that without the ability to freely track users and pelt them with ads, small business will suffer. In response, Apple fired back that it was simply standing up for iOS users that were tired of Facebook’s ongoing disregard for user privacy. Facebook shot back that this was all baldfaced attempt on Apple’s part to monopolize that juicy user data all for themselves. Apple responded that these updates aren’t eliminating targeted ads entirely, but simply giving users the chance to opt-out.
These iOS updates are still on track to roll out in early spring, which means Facebook needs to do all the damage control it can before then. Earlier this month, the company announced it would be testing some pop-up prompts of its own across iPhones and iPads asking users to allow Facebook to track them across apps and sites “for a better ads experience.”
What Facebook’s trying to do here is remind us all that while you probably don’t love targeted ads, you probably love yoga studios, handbags, and the people behind them. Facebook’s webpage for the campaign does what it can to convince us that those to ideas are one in the same: if you click on the landing page’s definition of what “personalised ads” are, it doesn’t tell you anything about how Facebook’s ads are targeted or how they manage to track you across the web. Instead, Facebook says that “personalised ads (aka ‘targeted ads’) help small businesses grow by reaching customers that are more likely to be interested in their products or services.” That’s it.
Facebook goes on to say that these ads don’t only support the businesses you love, but actually preserve your privacy, regardless of what Apple tells you:
Personalised ads help us connect you with businesses that are most relevant to your interests, without sharing who you are with the advertiser. Individual data that could identify you, like your name, posts, or contact information is never shared with businesses using personalised ads.
On one hand, this is all technically true: the data that these businesses use for ad targeting is so aggregated that they’re typically getting a birds-eye view of the number of clicks from a few hundred or thousand people at a time, rather than just one. But the only reason those quasi-anonymous pools of data even exist in the first place is because Facebook’s spent more than a decade tracking us all.
It’s also worth noting here that with the latest iOS update, that creepy cache of data won’t be going anywhere. It’ll just make sure that Facebook isn’t able to build up more data on all of us. Regardless, some analysts suspect that losing access to this ongoing data trickle could cost Facebook about 10% of its quarterly revenue — about $US8 ($10) billion dollars by the end of this year.
But what about those small businesses? The ones that Facebook says rely on its ad platform for their survival?
Nobody can deny that the ongoing global pandemic has devastated countless small businesses across the country, many of which don’t see an end to the current economic climate in their near future. However, it’s unlikely that the impact of Apple’s update will be anywhere nearly as catastrophic as Facebook’s saying here. Back in December, Dipayan Ghosh — an ex-Facebook executive turned public critic of the company — pointed out as much. Small businesses, he said, don’t only advertise on Facebook, and they don’t only rely on Facebook’s massive reams of data to do that work. Over time, some small business owners on forums like Reddit have reached the same conclusion: advertising might be a little harder with Apple’s new update, but it won’t be impossible.
What would be truly egregious would be if a company were wilfully misrepresenting the efficacy of its targeted ads to those same cash-strapped small businesses. But Facebook wouldn’t know anything about that, would it?