On March 28, Facebook posted a deceptively short public message on its site:
Shutting Down Partner Categories
We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories. This product enables third-party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.
Coming as it did in the midst of the Cambridge Analytica controversy, this announcement got quite a bit of attention from the general public. For the advertising and marketing industry, the effect was enormous. For days advertisers, agencies, and data and technology providers scrambled to assess the move and its implications. Many articles like this one appeared and were scoured and reposted.
Now, three months later, the huge cloud of uncertainty caused by Facebook’s sudden withdrawal of third party data from its advertising platform has begun to clear. It was definitely a step backward in many ways. Several useful tools have been permanently eliminated from what is arguably the most popular advertising platform in the world. But there is good news as well: Alternative paths for accomplishing some of the most important previous uses of third party data are emerging as hoped, supported to a reasonable extent by Facebook policies and products.
Advertisers are presumably learning to get along without the wide ranging data previously available in Facebook’s Audience Insights. Data in that platform has been scaled back to include only what Facebook can muster based on user-supplied data. Segments can be built using this Facebook data, or any of a range of data supplied by the client. But, all of the third party data – for instance, likely product buyers from Datalogix, or consumer demographics from Acxiom – all that data is gone. The API through which Facebook’s erstwhile partners could upload custom segments, which were tailor-made to address an advertiser’s campaign, will be shut off at the end of June. Data Providers have been voted off the island.
Fortunately, Facebook has clarified the rules for using it’s Custom Audiences Platform, and advertisers who license data from third parties may use Custom Audiences as an alternative onramp for leveraging high-quality third party data for targeting. Data providers will build segments, then onboard them just like a customer list, through onboarders like LiveRamp and Neustar.
To be sure, the advertiser will have to certify that the data source they are using has obtained appropriate user permissions and is in compliance with all laws, which will put pressure on each data provider to prove they have their act together. But the truth is, the best ones already do, and the rest will scramble to obtain the necessary documentation from their suppliers, and trim the suppliers who can’t perform.
As a result, service providers like RightJoin will still be able to build and distribute segments for advertisers. Moreover, we have the ability to fill another gap created by Facebook, by providing insights into critical audiences, leveraging a client’s data in combination with high quality third party data. So, there is a path forward for advertisers to gain insight and target intelligently on Facebook.
It’s worth noting that use of third party data to target ads will be flagged by Facebook to its users, at least to those who click to inquire. A pop-up will disclose whether the advertiser relied on a customer list, on partners, or both to select that user as an individual who should receive an ad.
One should assume that if a lot users respond to an ad by downgrading their ad preferences, Facebook will show that advertiser’s ad less frequently, and the worst performers may even get flagged, much as excessive unsubs can lead to restricted ISP access for email senders. In short, advertisers will need to make sure their content will be welcomed or at least well tolerated by their chosen segment.
At RightJoin, we make it easy for you to truly understand your customer, and to leverage that understanding to make marketing communications more efficient and tailored, transforming YOUR customer data into marketing you can trust.
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