Facebook Ads: Do Users Really Love Gaming and Hate Dating?

This Tuesday, we published a sample of results from our most recent Inside Facebook Gold study, which surveyed Facebook users to determine how they perceive ads on the social network. While most people don’t mind ads, we found that their perception of specific ad categories tends to vary widely, between those they find least offensive (food and beverages) to the most offensive (dating ads).

Since our results seemed to interest many, we decided to return for a second look at two of the ad categories respondents answered questions about, games and dating, to see why they affect users the way they do.

Games

Game ads came in as one of the least “offensive” advertising categories, as you can see from the graph above. For some, this may be a surprising result. While there are millions of gamers on Facebook, a similarly large group does not play games. And in the period before Facebook changed its notification policies, games were gaining a reputation as intrusive, even spammy, as developers sought through wall posts and reminders to draw in more players.

The answer to this apparent puzzle may be that users do have a bias against games — but that any latent displeasure with Facebook games is mostly disarmed by the ads themselves. Since Zynga is one of Facebook’s most regular advertisers, we picked out three of their performance ads for a look.

Note that each ad utilizes bright colors and a fun, cartoony illustration. The headlines are non-demanding, and some copywriting skill has clearly gone into the brief descriptions below each picture. Although users are asked to play, the marketing is clearly non-aggressive.

In general, we saw similarities between most game ads — each publisher tends to concentrate on the fun of their game, without pushing too hard at potential users. Now, let’s take a look at the opposite.

Dating

About four times as many Facebook users picked dating ads as their most disliked category over gaming ads; as you can see on the graph above, almost half of all users picked dating ads out of the five categories we presented. The question is, why do users hate dating ads so much?

The answer is more complicated than you might expect. A great many Facebook users, in fact, should never see a performance ad for dating services at all, based on Facebook’s guidelines for running such ads: the person targeted must have reported themselves to be either male or female, single, over 18 and interested in receiving dating ads. Further, the image used cannot be explicit in any way.

Facebook’s strict policies toward dating ads likely came about over a year ago, when dating ads featuring scantily-clad women (hat-tip to Mashable for the picture at right) were still regularly appearing for many users. Searching for a dating performance ad today, we couldn’t find a single example.

However, dating ads do appear elsewhere on the network — and some could easily be considered offensive. Here’s a banner ad that we found displayed on a popular quiz application:

Not all of the banner ads we found induced users to cheat on their significant other, but it’s reasonable to expect that many users have come across similarly offensive ads.

Another possibility to consider is that Facebook users learned elsewhere to distrust or dislike dating ads. Many users may have first had profiles on MySpace, which made very little effort to clean up its dating ads. And of course there’s previous exposure to dating ads on the wider internet to consider, with all of its assorted scams and pornography.

In addition to the ads that users like least, our complete survey also explored what ad and product types users like best, and what changes would most improve their perception of ads. The full results, along with in-depth breakdowns of Facebook’s international audience and exclusive demographic data, is only available to members of Inside Facebook Gold, our research and data membership service. To learn more or join, please see gold.insidenetwork.com/facebook