Why do Facebook Ads not take me seriously?

by Andrea Karim on 26 September 2008 27 comments

It's not exactly a secret that women ages 18-55 are a sought-after consumer demographic. According to a non-profit report issued by the YMCA, "U.S. women spent some $7 billion a year, or an average of about $100 each, on cosmetics and beauty products." So, it's no surprise that social networking sites like Facebook want to capitalize on our deep pockets and obsession with appearance. 

I'm not against consumerism or advertising. Hell, Google pays me for blogging using ad money, so I'm not about to bite the hand that feeds me. Online social networking allows companies the unique ability to gather demographic information (given willingly by the users!) that they can use to deliver targeted ads. I actually think it's a fairly useful tool, and it should solve one of my biggest pet peeves of advertising: being bombarded by ads for things I don't need (vacuum cleaners) or care for (Monday night football). Honestly, the idea of having a company know enough about me to provide me with advertisements for things that I might WANT is fairly appealing.

Here's what Facebook knows about me: I am single, and 31 years old. I am female. I've been known to date men.

When you sign up for Facebook, you enter a good deal of information about yourself. You don't HAVE to provide information about your sexual orientation or marital status, but I wasn't really thinking about the implications of all that when I signed up. Since I wasn't interested in dating via Facebook, I said I was interested in men and women for friendship, dating, etc.

And although I didn't provide this info to Facebook, I also admit the following:

  • I do meet and date people online.
  • I could stand to lose a few pounds.

Then why am I so irked every time I see a Facebook ad that asks me to try Oprah's amazing diet, or meet handsome and professional men online?

Because these are the only ads that Facebook showed me. Oh, there are variations on the theme:

  • Over 30 and lonely?
  • Get wooed by handsome men! (ad always features a picture of the exact type of man that I do NOT want to be wooed by)
  • Dr. Oz's Diet!
  • Muffin Top? Lose ten pounds in a week!

If these ads were mixed in with a variety of other ads for things like I want to buy, I'd probably have no problem with them. For instance, I'm in the market for a flat-panel television, and I'm not really sure how to shop around for one. I've been thinking of treating myself to a day spa in the Seattle area, but would like some sort of package deal that makes it worth the time, and money. Oh, and I'm always in the market for a pair of black, knee-high boots.

If Facebook cared to dig any deeper in my profile, they would notice that I belong to a fair number of liberal groups on through their site, and might start pushing Obama stickers towards me in great fistfuls. Or maybe they would see how often I am listening to music on Pandora, and casually throw the occasional concert tickets ad my way. They might notice from my status update references and fan club membershipts that I have a very serious crush on Hiro Nakamura. Couldn't one of the dating ads at least point me towards a site filled with nerdy Japanese guys who can bend time and space?

But no - it was all diet and douchey-looking dudes.

singles     attorney

Why is this? I NEVER click on these ads. Do other women in my demographic click on these ads, thus giving Facebook the impression that I will as well? Are there simply no other ads that would apply to a 31 year-old single woman?

A few months ago, Facebook started allowing users to start voting on the ads that they see. You can give a thumbs-up to an ad that you think is particularly interesting to you, and give a reason (good offer, relevant to me, etc.) or give a thumbs down and select a reason for that (irrelevant, uninteresting, pornographic).

I didn't enter my demographic information into my Facebook profile with the idea that I would meet a life partner through it. I ignore friend invites from people that I don't know, and for me, Facebook was simply a good way to keep in touch with my family members (Facebook is huge in Saskatchewan, don't ask me why). Of course, I know that most social networking sites make their money from ads (as do bloggers, for that matter), but when I clicked "Female" and "Single", it didn't occur to me that Facebook was going to assume that I was a lonely female version of Jabba the Hutt, longing to marry a single lawyer (see below) and produce little Jabbas.

Despite the fact that I don't click these dating ads, and give them a thumbs down every single time I see them, Facebook continued to bombard me with them. As if that wasn't bad enough, Facebook ads apparently started to believe that the reason I wasn't clicking them was because I was getting jilted by my current lover.

in love     great date no call?

I'm well aware that the minute a woman on Facebook chances her 'status' from 'single' to 'engaged', she begins seeing ads for wedding photographers, wedding dresses, and of course, pre-wedding diets. And if she gets hitched and changes her status from 'engaged' to 'married', it's All Baby, All The Damn Time ads.

Now, as a woman with a set of ovaries, I'm not going to lie and say that I have no interest in getting married or having kids. These things are important to lots of women. But they're not ALL that's important to single women the world over. There are other things that we spend money on, like athletic shoes. And cars. We tend to buy lots of books; according to a study in 2007, the average American woman who belongs to a social network spends about $500 a year on books.

Why have I never seen an advertisement for a book when I'm logged into Facebook?

Hey, I care about health and weight loss, and I write about these topics myself. But I just can't get into fad diets, or the latest "miracle" food that supposedly burns fat directly off of my thighs, or an acai berry cleanse. I can cleanse using kale, thank you very much.

A while ago, after getting incredibly fed-up with the barrage of "LET SEXY MALE LAWYERS WOO YOU!" ads that Facebook continued to display, I started to wonder if all women were seeing similar advertisements. Because Facebook tracks your married status and announces it to all of your friends, I didn't want to announce that I was engaged or married, so I settled on becoming a Facebook lesbian. What's the first ad that I saw as soon as I came out?

An ad for small business services.

What, do lesbians own an inordinate number of businesses or something? Are they crazy about business cards and pamphlets? Why would a straight woman who owns her own business not see this ad? Seriously, if this is what it takes for Facebook to consider me a consumer with needs beyond finding a man and dieting like a supermodel, sign me up.

Sure, there were some "Find the woman of your dreams"-type ads and the requisite Olivia Cruises ads, but they were mixed in with a good deal of ads for interesting stuff - political ads, for example. I don't know if this is normal, but I stopped seeing weight-loss ads altogether. Either Facebook's algorithm seemed to realize how annoyed I was with the ads, or lesbians are all much more fit than heterosexual women.

I asked some of my friends to log into Facebook and take screenshots of the ads that they were shown on a regular basis. Men over 40 years of age seem to get lots of offers to earn money by filling out surveys. Also, ads for a "rolling razor". My friend Mike, who is over 40 and single, seems to get a lot of book ads, which annoys me to know end. Sure, he's a voracious reader, but c'mon. He also gets Obama button offers and information on local real estate firms. Why doesn't Facebook assume that he, too, is desperate to get married?

My married girlfriend Shannon, who is my age, sees ads for albums by someone named Amy Mcdonald. She also gets ads from her alma mater.

My coworker just got married last week, so Facebook ads now implore her to check her credit score so that she can buy a house. Also, they apparently want her to start reproducing ("Enter to win free diapers!").

A very smart gal I know who refused to enter any demographic information into her Facebook profile gets a whole range of ads - Facebook doesn't realize that she's a single woman and thus isn't able to insult her intelligence or consumer habits. Yet. 

After weeks and weeks of voting down every single dating or weight-loss and dating ad shown to me (I finally just decided to remove my marital status and sexual orientation from Facebook altogether - it's really none of their business), I'm finally starting to see ads for Netflix, like the one below:

fatboy

Well, it's a start.

0
No votes yet
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

27 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

hahaha Run FATBOY RUN!  I remember you changing your status to a lesbian..and changing it back...

Guest's picture
Laura

I'm 28 and female, and all I get are ads for engagement rings. Aimed at men. Seriously, I've never even gotten a weight loss ad or anything else that I can remember. Things like "Buy her the ring of her dreams!" constantly. Perhaps it's for when my boyfriend is looking over my shoulder? Or to get me to start bugging him to buy me one? Facebook, are you trying to tell me that 4 years is a long time to be "in a relationship with"?

Guest's picture
Francie

As soon as I became a fan of "My Little Pony" I now constantly get an ad for the My Little Pony Pricing Guide. Well, at least it's a book!!

Guest's picture

I get the same ads- diets, dating and wedding-related services. So talk about confused! I am happily partnered to a man, so I guess facebook is telling me we should hurry up and get married or go find me a man that will marry me. Oh, and of course I need to lose 20 pounds before any of that can happen. I thought I was alone in my annoyance at these ads. Glad to know I'm not the only one in the fat, lonely lady boat.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

I was bold and clicked on the "More Ads" link from Facebook; here are all the ads that Facebook thinks will be meaningful to me (sorry about the stupid gray bar): http://img505.imageshack.us/my.php?image=facebookadsru0.jpg.

I am 27, female, in a relationship, art school grad, living in Houston. It's sad that gmail ads are still more relevant than these Facebook ads.

Guest's picture

I've never listed my marital status or my preference and I frequently see those ridiculous Green Tea weightloss ads. I always give them a thumbs down too. I wish Facebook would take me seriously when I say I'm not the target market for that.

Guest's picture
Looby

Huh, clearly I am not paying attention online because my first thought was- where are the facebook ads? However after logging on I see I am a target for world vision and contacts and eye-glasses. Does facebook know something I don't about my eyesight? Because I currently don't even have glasses...
Better than offering me high caliber singles or hot lawyers though!

Guest's picture
Kelly

I haven't tried Facebook yet, but those types of downmarket ads are one reason I stopped using My Yahoo. Last time I checked, they were impossible to turn off, and all I ever got was dating (even though Yahoo knows I'm married), weight loss, and easy credit banners glaring and blinking at me every time I logged on. iGoogle is so much more serene!

Guest's picture
jerry

i didnt realize anyone took Facebook seriously

Andrea Karim's picture

Well, I guess I'm glad to hear that not every single woman is forced to look at dating ads - My Little Pony isn't my personal favorite (Rainbow Bright was), but that better than the wooing lawyer ads.

Xin, I didn't realize that it showed my status change! That's funny. Probably threw my family for a loop, though.

Guest's picture
Sarah

Facebook takes your stated interests into account when choosing your ads. My Ad Board used to feature about two or three interior design-related ads at a given moment. On a hunch, I removed "interior design" from my interests, and went to check my ad board again. They all vanished.

Removing "vegetarianism" had a similar effect (except with PETA and animal shelter ads).

Having "knitting" in my interests gives me ads for knitting supplies, and listing "DDR" got me an ad for a fairly cool online music game. It's kind of fun to mess with your list an see what happens. I saw an ad once titled "Esoteric Mystery School".

I have noticed two strange things. First, I'm suddenly getting a LOT of teeth whitening ads... not sure what that's about. And second, the instant I updated my profile to reflect the fact that I was no longer in grad school, I started getting ads for investments and homebuying. Hm.

Guest's picture
Luke

It has nothing to do with facebook - advertisers and marketers pay facebook on a per click basis based on the demographic information you added in your profile. Facebook is just the medium through which they do it. The people pushing acai berry campaigns pay more per click than those pushing free Obama stickers, thus the acai ads show up more often (because facebook makes more money themselves when someone clicks on an acai or a dating ad).

While they might not make any money from you, I can promise they make a killing from others on facebook!

Personally I think advertising that changes and displays based on what you like (or don't like) is pretty genius and certainly the future of advertising.

Guest's picture

I think you'd find few people who have Facebook accounts that haven't had similar experiences. While even the "targeted" ads from Google Adsense can be all kinds of random, Facebook uses the small handful of demographic information it has about you to "customise" ads in ways that are often deeply offensive. Particularly in the vein of these "30 and STILL Single?" propositions. I've spoken to many people and while invariably such advertising makes them feel bad about themselves, it DOES NOT encourage them to click on these advertisements OR use the services being promoted.

I particularly enjoy the "thumbs down" feature on Facebook ads. It helps get rid of the rubbish and, surprisingly, can actually help direct more relevant information to your attention.

Guest's picture
cavale

Hmmm. I haven't noticed any ads like that. At all. And according to my stats, I'm a 21 year old female in an open relationship.

So I followed Elizabeth's lead and took a screenshot.

There is one dieting ad on there, but I'm suprised at how well targeted a lot of them are.

This is definitely something interesting, and I'll probly be paying attention to it in the future.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have never seen any ads on Facebook. Then again I use Firefox and the Ad Blocker Plus add-on. It must do a good job of blocking the ads on Facebook.

Guest's picture
Akilah88

They also look at your taste in music and TV when considering ads. They're always trying to get me to buy Thin Lizzy or Conan O'brien t-shirts. And its the same story with Myspace.

Guest's picture
Guest

When i first registered for facebook, I was attending a christian college. Despite not listing a religious belief but still remaining a member of this network, I'm shown ads for HOT CHRISTIAN SINGLES.

Andrea Karim's picture

One of my favorite sites, the Comics Curmudgeon, had the Christian singles ad for months. I don't know why the company thought that a bunch of cranky people who get together to complain about the comics in the newspaper would want such a service, but who knows how these things work?

I'm well aware that the advertisements are not created by Facebook. But they use FB info to target their sales. I just think it's odd that something as small as changing my sexual orientation would sudden warrant an entirely new variety of ads that treated me like someone who might need business services, not just a lonely, fat spinster.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm 22, female and I get PROMISE RINGS either myspace or facebook. Oh ya, it's really annoying.

Don't let something like this bother you. I got "male enhancement" stuff once and I don't even have the parts for it- it's just computer generated junk.

Guest's picture
Kelja

Perhaps the male-enhancement ad was meant for a boyfriend or husband. After all, you are, in the advertising world, an important influencer!

Guest's picture
Guest

They also display ads based on the location your computer is pinging from...when I was in Dominican Republic, I checked my FB and all the ads were in spanish (none of my demograhic info was set to the Dominican Republic)

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm a 28 year old (soon to be 29) female grad student. I've never provided Facebook any information on my sexual orientation or relationship status, and I have no interests listed. I get some of the weight loss ads, and some of the "Meet Cute Single Guys" stuff - never any lawyers, though, more like frat boys. However, I'm a fan of Obama and a couple local candidates, and NPR, and I get tons of Obama ads, MoveOn.org ads, and that sort of thing. Also Netflix ads, and travel ads (a lot of my "friends" are not American... maybe that's influencing it somehow?), ads for attorneys in my city (it's a big party-college town, and the ad asks if you need help with a DWI, drinking offenses, or traffic tickets). BUT, the one I see most frequently is the ad for a "Cartoon You" with the brunette lady and caricature side by side.... Maybe Facebook is trying to tell me I shouldn't post an actual picture of myself...?

Andrea Karim's picture

I think EVERYONE gets the Cartoon You ad - it just doesn't annoy me nearly as much as the dating ones. :)

Guest's picture
Slinky

I only have that I'm 24, female and engaged and all I get are wedding ads. I may have to go put in an interest or two so I can get some variety! Not that I ever click on the ads, but it would be nice to see something different.

Guest's picture
Guest

why would anyone make a successful ad campaign known to this group or anyone for that matter?

Guest's picture
Amanda

I went from "in a relationship" to "engaged" to "married" on facebook. "Engaged" brought me billions of wedding planning ads. I didn't mind those so much because I'm a researcher and love finding new websites to support my current interests. But after the wedding and subsequent status update, the ads didn't apply or appeal to me any more than before "engaged."

I'm a newly married twenty-something. I am fairly fit, and very happy in my life and marriage. And yet every other ad is either about losing weight with the newest fad diet or about getting over a breakup. I've even gotten ads for buying the perfect engagement ring. (What in the world??) I too have voted down on every obnoxious ad but I think the voting system is an illusion.

The only thing that I've found that helps my frustration with these ads is Opera. I use the opera browser for facebooking: it allows me to block images! It takes a couple days to block all the banners (often you have to block them on each type of page you visit), but I've not seen a banner or picture in the sidebar ads in over a year. Huzzah!

Guest's picture
Katie

I just signed up for facebook last month and the singles ads are annoying me to no end. Why do they assume a 31 year old woman has one sole interest, to get hitched? I also gets ads for single mom stuff and earn your degree even though I have marked in my profile I already have a MA. I don't have any kids either.

I did notice when I added some activities I like to do, the ads did get slightly more diverse but still the dating ones are overly dominate.