Why Brands Are Missing Out With Discriminative Targeted Marketing Campaigns

Opinion: Many continue using technology to cut people out rather than reel them in

If brands don’t start being more inclusive, they risk missing out on lots of potential opportunities
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In the bright new world of social media and digital marketing, brands have almost unlimited options of different groups and demographics to market their products and services to. However, despite the net being widened by new mediums and techniques, many marketers continue using technology to cut people out rather than reel them in.

One of the key differences that has made digital advertising so much more effective than pitching to the traditional media—print media, TV and radio—is the ability to target specific users, instead of sending a blanket message to all audiences. Targeting tools on social media platforms such as Facebook and on Google ads allow brands to create more personalized campaigns at lower costs, with better returns. Unfortunately, in recent years, many cases have emerged of technology being used to exclude people.

Multiple cases have surfaced of Facebook ads being used to draw racial lines for political purposes; exclude certain races, languages and religious affiliations from ads for housing, credit, employment and insurance; and disproportionately target men over women for highly paid jobs.

So, why is it high time that we break this negative trend in marketing and start using creative campaigns and technology to open doors to more people, rather than close them on certain groups? In short, because if brands don’t start being more inclusive, they risk missing out on lots of potential opportunities.

Who is to blame?

In light of a number of situations in which targeted ads are being used discriminately, Facebook recently signed a new, legally binding resolution with the state of Washington, agreeing to remove advertisers’ ability on its platform to exclude race, religion, sexual orientation and other protected classes in certain ad-targeting sectors.

This legislation is the tip of the iceberg after a chain of charges including the well-publicized ProPublica investigation about discriminative advertising, dating back to 2016. The Washington state attorney general’s office stated that the changes would be implemented all over the U.S., but that the aforementioned agreement would only be legally binding in the state of Washington, for now.

However, while it is positive that U.S. legislators are taking a stand against immoral practices on social media—just one of the many legal issues piling on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulders over the past year—one could argue that pointing the finger at the platforms and technology is the easy way out.

In a 2017 article in The Atlantic, Gillian B White argued that Facebook, and other media channels where brands advertise, must figure out how to avoid discriminatory ads while remaining attractive to advertisers. Yet, one could argue that the real root of the problem is cultural, stemming from the biased opinions of human marketing teams and brands behind these unethical campaigns.

Marketing to a modern society

We are living in an age in which stereotypes and misconceptions about different demographics are challenged daily—an age in which modern technology is allowing people of all backgrounds to discover their own likes and dislikes and express their own characters and personalities.

Should people over the age of 50 be excluded from an ad for wakeboarding classes? Should Caucasian Americans not be targeted with adverts for hip-hop or reggaeton artists? Should lower income brackets not be able to learn about scholarships at leading colleges?

In an attempt to reach their preconceived target audiences more selectively, advertisers may be missing out on a potentially untapped market. Millennials are now the most diverse generation ever, with recent studies estimating that 44 percent of America’s largest generation comes from ethnic minority backgrounds. As such, different race groups are spread across all socioeconomic classes, making the U.S. more of a melting pot than ever before.

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