Before the release of the N.W.A. film ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ Facebook and Universal Pictures teamed up to create custom trailers for the film — two variations for people of color and another for white audiences. Facebook then used its collected data to display the ‘appropriate’ version based on a user’s race.
Doug Neil, Universal’s marketing chief, and Jim Underwood, Facebook’s head of entertainment, described the experiment at SXSW panel and dubbed it a “victory” for race-specific marketing.
Universal and Facebook customized the trailers based on information that the non-African American, non-hispanic population (referred to as “the general population” by Neil) wasn’t familiar with N.W.A. or the musical accomplishments of Dr. Dre, or Ice Cube.
“They connected to Ice Cube as an actor and Dr. Dre as the face of Beats,” Neil said.
The trailer marketed to African Americans was completely different. The group assumed that this segment of the population was familiar with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s individual musical catalogs as well as the rap group N.W.A.,. Because of the familiarity, the trailer featured more images of N.W.A. rather than focusing solely on Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
Hispanics saw mostly the same trailers as African Americans, although the spot was shorter and featured quotes in Spanish.
What’s not clear, and remained unanswered at the SXSW panel, is how long Facebook has been doing race-specific ad targeting. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Update 3/16: Facebook responded with the following, but it’s important to point out that while this is factually correct, it might be confusing to those that don’t understand ad targeting, but more on that in a moment.
“Several news outlets have stated that Facebook allows advertisers to target ads based on race. That is not accurate. Facebook does not have a capability for people to self-identify by race or ethnicity on the platform. As part of its advertising offering, brands can target ads on Facebook to people based on how they might respond to content. The affinity segments are created, in a privacy-safe way, using signals such as different languages, likes, and group membership on the platform.”
All of these points are true. There isn’t a magical “I want to target African Americans” button in the Facebook ad platform.
However, you can target based on “affinity” which is essentially targeting based on things African Americans might like, comment and share on Facebook. You can also target based on location, which gives advertisers the ability to show ads only to those who might live in predominately black, asian, or hispanic areas — a marketing technique that’s been around since the mid-1900s.
While there’s no 100 percent accurate way to do this on Facebook, targeting a disproportionate percentage of a single race is an incredibly easy task.
If I were to do it for white people, I’d target ads to those that liked (on Facebook) all three of the following: a publication with a predominately white audience (Good Housekeeping), location (New Hampshire – 96 percent white according to census data) and interest (Golf).
I could select additional publications and interests to make it even more laser-targeted, but just the combination of the three targets above would give me an audience that was almost entirely caucasian.