Facebook Fall-Out

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal has thrown up a surprising number of people with an apparent expertise in data analytics and a detailed knowledge on how one goes about scraping personal information from a very large social media site.

As neither a data geek nor someone possessing a personal scraper I find it honest to keep out of the weeds, focusing instead of what the fall-out might be.

I doubt that Facebook will disappear. It might shrink (it’s already shrinking); it might have to change its business model; it might be regulated as a publisher (about time) but it’ll still be here.

Cambridge Analytica might vanish – but no-one’s going to shed too many tears over their demise, should it happen. Anyway, even if it does happen we can expect to see a remarkably similar organisation pop up somewhere else.

We can surely expect more regulation around political advertising but also around how people are kept informed of who is holding what data on them and what is done with it. The end point being that individuals will not only be far more aware of the significance of their data but will also be in a position to decide who has access to it and for what purpose.

And ads? Brands will need to think very carefully over where the line is between being relevant and being creepy.

Let’s assume I have long, flowing red hair (in the interests of full disclosure: I don’t). I would be quite happy to be served an ad for a shampoo designed for long hair. I would be even happier to be served an ad for a shampoo specially formulated for long, red hair. In fact, I would think that was relevant, and helpful to me and other long-haired redheads.

If the frequency of serving the ad was related to the average life of a bottle of shampoo, that would be a smart use of data.

I would though start to feel uncomfortable if I was served an ad that not only did all of the above but also somewhere contained the lines: ‘Brian, it’s about time you washed your hair, it’s been weeks, it’s filthy and that isn’t healthy’.

From relevant to creepy.

Almost exactly a year ago, Kantar Media published their first 5-country Dimension study. One interesting finding was that 36% of those aware of ads being targeted disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement: ‘I don’t mind providing data if it leads to more relevant ads’.

So, over a third of Kantar Media’s sample said they do mind handing over their data to improve ad relevance. Exactly the same proportion said they agreed with the statement – so they didn’t mind.

I expect the disagree figure will have increased in the last week or two.

There will likely be a consumer reaction against very specific targeting.

Everybody prefers to see ads that are relevant to them, but one fall-out from the FB/CA scandal is likely to be that in the eyes of the consumer the line between relevance and creepy will firm up. Very specific, personalised copy will fall into the creepy category and thus be less acceptable.

I’m off to wash my hair.



  1. ‘Cambridge Analytica… a remarkably similar organisation pop up somewhere else.’ Already done: Mercers (the ones who funded CA) are on the board as of March 16 of EMERDATA. Also on the board is CA CEO Alexander Nix as well as Julian Wheatland (chaiman of SCL Group, the parent company of CA) and Alexander Taylor CA Chief Data officer. The band is back together!

  2. The key disconnect in all this is the definition of “relevant ads.” Every advertiser using “programmatic” methods thinks he’s delivering more relevant ads. And yet the click rates are around 5 in 10,000. In the eyes of advertisers the relevance is near 100. In the eyes of consumers the relevance is near zero.

  3. “Everybody prefers to see ads that are relevant to them”
    This superficially “stands to reason”, but like all superficially ‘common sense’ statements it doesn’t bear scrutiny. Ads are supposed to be news to me– they give me ideas and options. It may be that they cleverly use my prejudices to enhance product appeal, but EVERY time they are self evidently reacting to a decision I just took (like trying to sell me something I just nearly bought, or worse, something I ACTUALLY DID already buy) then it is ALWAYS creepy from the get go. On line programmatic ads are like Direct Marketing on steroids– in order to squeeze the last extra demand out of nearby prospects they devastate branded product appeal to the larger market.

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